When Sean Kilpatrick was playing for Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Massachusetts I was living about an hour away in Boston. After he signed to play for UC, I braved a massive snowstorm and drove to one of his prep school games to see Sean play.
He was awful.
Kikpatrick’s coach assured me that it was just a rare bad game and that Sean would have an outstanding career at Cincinnati.
I did not have a similar experience when I went to watch future Bearcat Samari Curtis.
In mid-February when Cincinnati had a week between games, I took a peek at the Xenia High School schedule in hopes of seeing the 6’4” guard in action. Fortunately, the Buccaneers had a road game in the Dayton area, so I made the trip up I-75 and when I walked into the gym I spotted Coach Cronin in the stands.
Together we watched Curtis put on quite a show in an 86-72 win. Despite being held to three points in the first quarter, Samari finished with 42 points and went over the 2000 point mark for his high school career.
“There are roughly 50 guys in the state of Ohio that have done that before,” said Xenia coach Kent Anderson. “And he missed 11 games. He had a broken hand and missed six games as a sophomore and five last year with a concussion. You never know how many points he would have had.”
Curtis had a school-record 52-point game this season, averaged 34.4 points a game, and finished with 2,109 career points. On Thursday he was named Ohio’s “Mr. Basketball” for 2019. That award has existed in Ohio since 1988 and Curtis is the first Cincinnati recruit to win it.
“I love his competitive spirit,” said Coach Cronin. “He really loves basketball and loves to compete and I’ve seen him play at the highest levels of AAU and summer camps against the nation’s best players.”
The most impressive aspect of Curtis’ game the night I watched him play was his ability to drive toward the basket at high speed with either hand, abruptly hit the brakes, and softly float in a mid-range jump shot.
“I’ve really tried to develop that over the last couple of years,” Samari told me. “I know you have that at the next level.”
“He probably does that better than anything,” said Coach Anderson. “From 12 to 15 feet, he’ll stop on a dime and pull up. He just has such good body control and he can finish around the rim with either hand.”
For the season, Curtis shot approximately 52% overall, 33% from outside the arc, and 77% from the free throw line. He also averaged 5.8 assists to rank second in the Greater Western Ohio Conference.
“He can score any way,” said Coach Anderson. “Three pointers, mid-range, attack the rim, and at the free throw line. There’s really no weak part of his offensive game. As he gets stronger and gets down there in Coach Cronin’s system, I just think the UC fans are going to love him and he’s going to love the atmosphere at Fifth Third Arena.”
Curtis verbally committed to Xavier in February of last year, before reopening his recruitment and signing with Cincinnati in November.
“I think he’s going to be the ideal Bearcat – I really do,” said Anderson. “When he made the switch I thought it was the right fit for him.”
Coach Cronin is hoping that Curtis can contribute right away next season.
“You hope that every recruit can play a significant role right away,” Mick told me. “Samari has great ball skills for a guy that’s 6-foot-4,” said Cronin. “He can pass it, he can handle it, and he can shoot it mid-range, long range, and get to the rim. He’s a high level talent. The adjustment for him will be the speed of the game, the guys he is playing against, and the physicality of the college level. You’ve got to be able to play defense and take care of the ball. If you can do that, it doesn’t matter what grade you’re in.”
Curtis says he is looking forward to getting to Cincinnati and getting to work.
“I’m excited for them to help me get better,” he said. “I know that Coach Cronin, Coach Jackson, and the rest of the staff are going to keep it real with me and help me get better every day. That’s what I love.”
“When Coach Cronin came to our gym a year and a half ago to try to recruit him, he looked him dead in the eye was just honest with him.” said Anderson. “Rather than give him some con job he was brutally honest and it ultimately it paid off for UC and it paid off for Samari because I just think it’s the perfect fit for him.”
I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net
If you’re on Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard