Marianna, FL---The Chipola men's basketball team is now in Ocala. The team heading there Monday in advance of the state tournament as the Panhandle champs.
All that would not have been possible without the play of guard Sam Cassell Jr., who's led the team in points, assists and steals at 18, 4 and 2 respectively.
All that while being a rather unlikely juco player, who now says he's better off for his time in the juco ranks.
As a high school hoops star with the name of an NBA All Star, Sam Cassell Jr. could've played his college ball nearly anywhere.
The Baltimore native, and son of former FSU great Sam Cassell who went on to play several years in the NBA, was set to be a Maryland Terapin. even enrolled in summer classes and then, one ruling changed everything.
"It was rough." says Cassell, Jr. "It was rough for me and also the city of Baltimore because everyone thought I was going to Maryland. And then, a little mishap happened."
The NCAA declared Cassell ineligible because of classes he took in prep school being invalidated. He thought his college hoops dreams were done, until the Chipola Indians came calling.
"We got in touch and I talked to his dad a few times" says Chipola head coach Patrick Blake "and talked to Sam Jr., and I just expressed that I know this is not the route he wanted to go, but
Since arriving in Marianna, Cassell has seen the benefits of restarting his collegiate career at one of the elite Juco programs in the nation.
"My game has improved a lot. I can feel myself getting stronger physically and mentally. The game is becoming a lot easier now that I cam here. I redshirted last so I got a chance to watch a lot of good players and a lot of basketball, so I knew, me playing last year, I knew I had to be ready."
When key teammates were suspended right in the middle of the brutal Panhandle conference slate, it was Sam who helped carry the Indians to the postseason.
"I'm a sophomore, so that's like a senior on a university team. So I have to be that, I have to be a coach on the floor for the guys.
"He really does a great job of being a leader for this team. You don;t always see guys with his talent allow you to coach them hard."
After two years, Cassell is clear to play in the NCAA up at Connecticuit. Regardless of what's in store for him in Storrs, he'll cherish his days in Marianna.
"At the end of the day, I'm glad I came here. Things worked out in my way, so i'm good."
The Indians open at state Wednesday against defending national champ Central Florida at 7 central.