A learning year for Siena basketball’s Sammy Friday

Freshman expected to start as soon as next season
Sammy Friday, left, posts up teammate Kadeem Smithen during a Siena College men's basketball practice.
Sammy Friday, left, posts up teammate Kadeem Smithen during a Siena College men's basketball practice.

What Siena College redshirt senior forward Brett Bisping likes best about teammate Sammy Friday is the freshman forward’s willingness to learn.

“He’s making steps and he’s very coachable,” Bisping said. “When [head coach Jimmy Patsos] tells him to do something, Sammy does what he says — almost to an extreme.”

Like at one recent practice, during which Bisping remembered Patsos instructed Friday to post up whenever he could in the paint . . . and the freshman forward did so to the point where he was occasionally getting in the way of his teammates, sometimes banging into them.

“But he did it with good intentions,” said a smiling Bisping, whose team will play host on Friday to the school’s #SienaMadness pep rally fan event at the Alumni Recreation Center on campus along with the Saints’ women’s team.

This season is all about development for Friday, a Jersey City, N.J. native who packs 252 pounds onto his 6-foot-9 frame. After spending a post-graduate year attending St. Andrew’s School in Rhode Island following a high school career at Hudson Catholic, Friday is clearly behind three players in the Saints’ frontcourt — Bisping, senior Javion Ogunyemi and sophomore Evan Fisher — and battling this preseason with redshirt sophomore Willem Brandwijk for the fourth spot in what Patsos expects to be a four-man rotation regularly playing down low this season for the Saints.

“He’s doing great, but he’s [got] a long way to go,” Patsos said of Friday.

Later, the coach added: “He’s close this year, but I’m not going to force anything.”

Patsos is quick to point out that Friday will likely start next season for the Saints when Bisping and Ogunyemi are gone. But that means that before expectations rise for Friday with an increased role as a sophomore, he gets a year as an understudy to a pair of preseason All-MAAC first-teamers to soak in as much as possible.

“So I’m taking it one day at a time and learning as much as I can so that when I get in the game I can apply what they taught me,” Friday said. “I just want to play my role.”

Friday said he only started playing competitive organized basketball as a high school freshman. Nick Mariniello, Friday’s high school coach, said the big man was raw with promise as a hoops novice.

“So he really had to work at improving himself,” said Mariniello, who was an assistant coach for the Saint Peter’s team Siena beat in the 1999 MAAC championship game. “Sammy had size, but he didn’t have much experience.”

Friday was skinny, too. Mariniello described Friday as “gangly” during his high school underclassmen years.

“But the weight room’s changed me,” Friday said.

Patsos credits Friday as an “excellent inside player” with above-average athleticism for his size. Where Friday needs to get better is in his adjustment to the accelerated schedule of a college hoops player, where plays and sets need to be learned quickly while playing at a high tempo.

“But that’s everybody in their freshman year,” Ogunyemi said of what Friday’s struggling with this preseason. “He’s realizing this is different than high school.”

One thing that’s stayed the same for Friday is that he’s continued to do well off the court. Bisping said he’s seen Friday, a computer science major, regularly get to class early. In one of those classes, the soft-spoken Friday showed his sense of humor when he filled out his first-day name tag as “Sensei Sam.”

“And that just clicked right away,” Friday said. “That stuck.”

Teammate Thomas Huerter is in that class, a freshman seminar, with Friday. He confirmed the big man’s nickname within that class.

“He’s ‘Sensei Sam’ to everyone there,” Huerter said.

That nickname has not yet followed Friday to the basketball court. There, he still has much to learn as he shows flashes of his promise.

“I’m excited to see the kind of player he’s going to become,” Bisping said.

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