LOUDONVILLE — The social media rallying cry, and goal, of the Siena College men’s basketball program is to “#UnleashMayhem” with head coach Jamion Christian at its helm.
Along the way, the Saints have found a way to unleash junior Sammy Friday, a player whose vast potential largely went unrealized during his first two seasons at Siena.
“Man,” Christian said after Siena’s win Saturday against Harvard, “he’s been tremendous.”
Statistically, Friday’s contributions have been relatively mild through Siena’s 3-5 start to the 2018-19 season. But the 6-foot-9, 239-pound Friday is offering consistent production for the first time in his collegiate career, and is developing into the most-trusted player off the Saints’ bench.
Friday had never scored at least eight points in back-to-back games until doing so in each of Siena’s last three games. Four of Friday’s five highest-scoring career games have come this season, in which Friday is averaging 6.4 points in 13.4 minutes per game. Friday posted one of his best games this season against Harvard, when he had 10 points and three rebounds in 21 minutes.
On the court, Friday said what has been critical for him this season is embracing Christian’s message to always focus on the next play.
“He says to play even,” Friday said. “You just have to always keep a level head.”
That is something Friday struggled with during his first two seasons at Siena. He averaged 1.9 points and 1.6 rebounds per game, but also showed glimpses of his talent. Notably, Friday recorded a double-double with 15 points and 15 rebounds against Louisville during his sophomore season.
In his mind, though, the unproductive games he contributed outweighed the productive ones for Friday. This season, Friday said he has solved that problem by always focusing on the present.
“I don’t try to think about the last game anymore,” Friday said. “I’m just going out and playing, forgetting about my last game, and going out there and playing as hard as I can.”
During the preseason, Christian referred to Friday as possessing “elite talent.” Getting the most out of that talent, Christian said, started with getting Friday to gain confidence in himself. To that end, one of Christian’s first challenges to Friday was for the player to make his bed each day, a mundane task meant to test Friday’s willingness to commit to making a lasting change in his life and to offer the player a chance to start each of his days by immediately accomplishing something.
“It’s been such a pleasure watching him just grow. Grow as a player, grow as a person,” Christian said. “He’s just been in a great mental place to attack what we need to do. He’s been in a great mental place to improve every day. Not getting too high or low. He’s one of those special people, and I think everyone’s starting to see his personality play out on the floor and that’s exciting for us as a coaching staff and exciting for our fans, as well.”
Friday is Siena’s fifth-leading scorer and rebounder so far this season, and is on track to set a variety of new career-high season totals within the next few weeks. He has little interest, though, in looking back at his strong start — or at looking too far ahead, either. After Saturday’s win, Friday said his priority is just getting ready for Wednesday’s road game at St. Bonaventure.
“I’m staying present in the moment,” Friday said. “Nothing about the past or the future.”