Omar Samhan Talks Arvydas Sabonis
Last year’s NCAA Tournament star shares what it’s like playing for an international legend.
by Jonathan Santiago / @itsJONsantiago
Every March, there’s always one college basketball player and/or team that captures the attention of media and fans alike. Last season, it was St. Mary’s and their star center Omar Samhan. His captivating personality took the nation by storm during last year’s NCAA Tournament. And he led St. Mary’s on a Cinderella run to the Sweet Sixteen.
Since then, he’s moved nearly 6,000 miles from his home in sunny California to live in the frigid, cold temperatures of Lithuania. But, for good reason. After going unselected in last year’s NBA Draft and playing in Summer League, he was offered a contract to play for BC Žalgiris. It is Lithuania’s most storied pro basketball club, which happens to be owned by international legend and former Portland Trailblazer Arvydas Sabonis.
“He’s around a lot,” Samhan said in a Skype interview from Europe. ”We get to see him. He comes to most of the games.”
Sabonis, along with other European imports such as Vlade Divac, Toni Kukoc and Drazen Petrovic, paved the way for today’s crop of international talent. After wrapping up his NBA career following the 2002-03 season, the former Blazers big man moved back home to Lithuania where he played for Žalgiris. He also became president and club owner.
For Samhan, the decision to play in Lithuania was an easy one. They’re a country that cares about basketball. And as a big man, having one of the greatest centers in international hoops history own the team he plays for is just icing on the cake.
The former St. Mary’s Gael says he’s been heeding any advice Sabonis has offered.
“Any big guy can block out and rebound,” Samhan said. “But he liked to score in a finesse way and pass the ball. So I’ve just been trying to do as much of that as possible because that’s what kind of got him to the NBA.
“He was such a good player because he didn’t play like a clumsy seven foot center,” Samhan added.
The Northern California bred center thinks that Sabonis’ involvement and presence makes players that much more eager to win for Žalgiris. After all, the former Blazer big man is still well-respected and beloved all throughout Europe.
“Whenever we travel and he goes with us,” Samhan began. “Whether we’re in Spain or in France, everybody stops him and asks for autographs. So it’s pretty cool to be around him.”
Samhan talks about committing to the Egyptian National Team
Egypt’s recent revolution inspired the former St. Mary’s product of Egyptian heritage to join the country’s national team. With the 2012 Olympics right around the corner, Samhan hopes he and his team can qualify.
Jonathan Santiago is also a contributor at SB Nation Bay Area.