Hail to the Rookies

Greetings from Long Island, Cavs fans!

Over the last few weeks – or pretty much the entire season, really – the Cavaliers have played a very young lineup. Between Samardo Samuels, who, as a reminder, my brother played with in camp a few years ago, and Christian Eyenga, the future is looking more and more promising for Cleveland fans.

I was searching around Cavs.com today and came across these few comments from Joe Gabriele:

Samardo has gotten the last five starts at power forward, but hadn’t been in the starting five all season before March.  The only other Cavalier rook with a stake in this year’s March mayhem is Manny Harris, whose Michigan Wolverines will take on Illinois in their Big Ten opener on Friday night.

In a starting role, Samuels is averaging 15.0 points and 7.6 rebounds – with six charges taken, including the pair against Anthony and the Knicks. Christian Eyenga has started 18 games for Cleveland, netting 8.0 points and 4.5 boards in those contests. From beyond the arc, Eyenga is shooting .189 as a starter, .458 coming off the bench.

Manny Harris has been steady but not spectacular in his 14 starts – shooting .398 from the floor, .400 from long-distance and .843 from the stripe. Manny is averaging an even five boards per game, but has yet to taste victory. The former Wolverine is 0-14 as a starter.

Semih Erden, on the other hand, is 5-1 in his six starts with Boston – including a win over Cleveland on January 25. In those six contests, Erden shot .667 from the floor (18-of-27), averaging 5.1 boards per. His Celtic and Cavalier teammate, Luke Harangody, has yet to start as a pro

Christian Eyenga – and his cool nickname – got some national love on ESPN.com this week, with John Hollinger naming the 21-year-old high-flier to his “All-2012 Team.” About Eyenga, Hollinger wrote …

”This is more a subjective call than a stats-based one, but “Skyenga” can fly and needs to only add experience to become, at the very least, a quality defensive player. He didn’t see any game action until January but has taken over the starting small forward role.

While his offensive game is a work in progress, his quickness and elevation defensively put him in stark contrast to most of his teammates. Eyenga’s dunks get the attention right now, but it’s his defensive potential that bodes best for his future.”

Celtics coach Doc Rivers joked that he was almost reticent to play Harangody in practice because of how hard he went against Boston’s vets. His new coach, Byron Scott, has been equally impressed with the former Domer.

“He’s a banger and he’s an energy-type guy,” said Scott. “In practice, he’s thinking a lot because there are so many new things we’re throwing at him. (He’s) a very intelligent basketball player. He’s gotten almost everything we’ve thrown at him, on the offensive end and the defensive end.”

Harangody isn’t going up against Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O’Neal anymore. Now he’s got to pick on guys his own age.

“Samardo and J.J.,” said Coach Scott, referring to Harangody’s practice dance partners. “He’s kind of taken turns with both of those guys – which has been fun because J.J.’s a little more active, a little more athletic. And Samardo’s a banger. So he’s getting a little bit of both. Which is good.”

Harangody hasn’t taken much contact from either guy over the past few days, as the Cavaliers attempt to get him over a painful hip pointer that was obviously bothering him on Sunday night against New Orleans.

“We have Thursday, Friday and Saturday off – so that’ll give him a few days to get some treatment and some rest and hopefully get that thing ready for Sunday,” said Coach Scott before Tuesday’s game against Golden State.

All season, the Cavaliers rooks are having the surreal experience of going up against their childhood idols in a game. Christian Eyenga wears No. 8 because Kobe Bryant was his favorite player. Months later, he was blowing past his hero to throw down a monstrous baseline dunk to help beat the Lakers.

In Samardo’s first start, he notched 23 points against his idol – Time Duncan, the Big Fundamental.

After San Antonio’s Gary Neal (9.4 ppg), the Cavaliers have the two most productive undrafted rookies in the league – Samuels (6.8 ppg) and Manny Harris (6.6). The fifth rookie on that list, Pooh Jeter, who finished second in scoring for Cleveland during last year’s summer league.
It’s no wonder Samardo and Luke Harangody performed so well last Friday at Madison Square Garden. As Big East Tournament vets, they’ve played their share of big games at the Garden. And their former teams will do battle there tonight – and, if they’re successful – for the remainder of the weekend.

“Oh, man. I was his biggest fan,” said Samuels after the game. “I had his jersey, No. 21, growing up. That was my mom’s favorite player. It was good just to see him for that split second (pregame). But after the game started, it was kind of like, ‘We need this win. I don’t care who I’m going against.’

Samardo Samuels, who grew up in Jamaica, and Eyenga, a native of the Congo, have each professed that soccer was their first love.

In separate installments of Growing Up on Cavs.com, the rookies explained …

Samardo: “I played forward – I liked to score. I think in my mind I was really good at soccer. But my friends are like: ‘You’re better off with basketball.’”

Eyenga: “In high school, if I had played soccer, I would have been one of the greats in the city. I was good at soccer. I love soccer.”

When Christian was asked if he can imagine Samardo playing soccer, the multilingual rookie showed his grasp of American colloquialisms, quickly responding: “Aw, hell no!”

Samuels’ Louisville Cardinals went 23-8 overall and will begin their tourney play against Marquette. Harangody’s Irish finished 25-5 in the regular season, will open against Cincinnati and look to grab a No. 1 seed come selection Sunday.

Just a few more young talents and this team could me moving in the right direction. Give me Harrison Barnes and Jared Sullinger in the draft this summer and Hallelujah! the Cavaliers may be back!

Tags: Byron Scott Cavaliers Cavs Cleveland Cleveland Cavaliers MVP NBA Playoffs RDE

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