Jared Samuelson to return to Montana Grizzlies for final basketball season

(Editor’s note: University of Montana athletics release)

MISSOULA — Jared Samuelson never wanted to leave Montana two years ago, but he knew it was what he needed to do at the time. After playing a key reserve role as a redshirt freshman in 2016-17 – a season in which he played in all 32 games for the Griz, averaging 5.1 points per game on .570 shooting – the talented forward moved closer to home, and played the next two seasons at Rocky Mountain College in Billings.

There, Samuelson thrived. In his first season for the Battlin’ Bears, the 6-7 forward was the Frontier Conference Newcomer of the Year, a first-team all-conference selection, and an NAIA honorable mention All-American. This past spring, he one-upped himself, earning All-America third-team honors while leading Rocky for scoring (18.5 points per game) and rebounding (7.6).

Samuelson earned his degree in business management earlier this spring, and there was one place on his mind when he decided to play his final collegiate season elsewhere: the University of Montana.

“Missoula is home to me,” Samuelson said. “I’ve been a Griz since berth. It was an opportunity I couldn’t say no to. To end my career as a Griz is something I’m going to look back on 10 years down the road and be extremely happy about.”

Samuelson was born in Missoula. Both of his parents graduated from the University of Montana, a location where his father, Shawn, excelled on the basketball court. Shawn Samuelson played for the Griz from 1993-96 – overlapping with current head coach Travis DeCuire – and ranks among Montana’s all-time greats, finishing his career ranked in the top six for both career scoring and rebounding.

Jared Samuelson was following in his father’s footsteps, suiting up for the hometown Grizzlies. After redshirting in 2015-16, Samuelson saw the floor a year later, scoring 15 points in his collegiate debut against Wyoming. That year, he averaged 5.1 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while shooting .570 from the floor and ranking third on the team with 11 blocks. He led the Griz for scoring twice, including a career-high 20 points at Northern Arizona.

He acknowledged that moving to Billings – where his family resides – was a difficult decision, but one that was needed, and also one that has made him better on and off the court. He led his team in scoring and rebounding both seasons at Rocky, averaging 18.7 points and 7.6 rebounds per game across his two-year NAIA career, also adding 1.0 steals and 0.6 blocks per game. In 2018-19, he ranked 16thin all of NAIA for scoring, and second in the Frontier Conference for points, rebounds and double-doubles.

“My outside shooting is better than it was when I was last in Missoula,” Samuelson said of his growth. “I was just an inside player as a freshman.”

This past season, nearly 20 percent of Samuelson’s made baskets were from beyond the arc, sinking 42 treys on .408 shooting.

“I also think I’ve added strength to my defensive skills, and have matured a lot as a person and a basketball player.”

The maturation on and off the court, in addition to knowing him previously, was a big reason why DeCuire was so open to bringing Samuelson back for a senior season.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a player come back to his previous university, but I think a big reason for that is because relationships are usually severed,” DeCuire said. “That never happened with Jared. He’s a good player and a good kid, so when he showed interest in coming back, the conversation was pretty short.

“Jared’s transition was positive. As you mature as a student-athlete, you start to identify some things that might be important to you, and I think one of those things for Jared was walking across the stage at the University of Montana and getting his master’s degree here.”

While Samuelson was tearing up the Frontier Conference, his former team was having success of its own, winning back-to-back Big Sky championships and playing in the NCAA tournament both seasons. While he had desires to be part of Montana’s successes, Samuelson never felt resentment. Instead he was excited to watch his former teammates – and many close friends – succeed on the big stage.

“I was just so happy for Trav (DeCuire) and the guys,” Samuelson said. “It’s hard to feel bitterness when a lot of your lifelong friends are having success.”

Samuelson will have one year of immediate eligibility remaining, and hopes to help the Grizzlies make a return trip to the Big Dance. While suiting up for the Griz on the court, he will be working toward his master’s degree in business administration.

“I really enjoyed playing at Rocky, and appreciate all of the people there, but this was something I couldn’t pass up,” Samuelson said. “I’ve always enjoyed being a Griz and I have one more year of living out that dream that I had as a kid.”

Samuelson’s career stats, per the University of Montana, are listed below.

2017-19 (Rocky Mountain College): Played two seasons at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Mont. … Earned NAIA All-America honors both seasons, including third-team recognition as a junior in 2018-19… Was a two-time All-Frontier Conference first-team selection and the 2018 Frontier Conference Newcomer of the Year… Finished his two-year NAIA career with 1,175 points (18.7 per game) and 476 rebounds (7.6) while shooting .523 from the floor and .832 from the free-throw line… Finished his junior season ranked 21st in all of NAIA for scoring, reaching double figures in 31 of Rocky’s 32 games… Ranked second in the Frontier Conference for scoring, rebounding and double-doubles… Also shot .408 from three-point range, making 42 treys… As a sophomore, his first at Rocky, ranked in the top 35 in NAIA for shooting (.555, 20th), scoring (18.8, 21st), free-throw percentage (.825, 30th) and rebounding (7.6, 34th)… Holds career highs of 32 for scoring (two occasions), 17 for rebounding (vs. Menlo) and five for blocked shots (vs. Dickinson State)… Rocky went 18-14 in 2017-18 and 19-13 in 2018-19, advancing to the NAIA national tournament.

2016-17 (Freshman): Academic All-Big Sky Conference selection… Played in all 32 contests, earning one start… Totaled 164 points, an average of 5.1 per game (seventh on the team)… Led the Grizzlies with a .570 field-goal percentage (65-of-114)… Ranked third on the team with 11 blocks… Ranked seventh on the team with 76 rebounds (2.4 average)… Led UM in scoring twice, including a career-high 20 points in a victory at Northern Arizona (Feb. 11)… Shot 7-of-9 in that game, plus 6-for-6 from the free-throw line… Led the Grizzlies in blocked shots and steals eight times apiece… Had four double-digit scoring games, including 15 in his collegiate debut vs. Wyoming (Nov. 14)… Had at least two rebounds in 23 contests, including a six-game stretch (Feb. 4-25) in which he averaged 3.67 per game… Had a career-most five boards vs. Sacramento State (Feb. 16)… Recorded 10 steals, including two in one game on three occasions… Had two blocks vs. Weber State (Dec. 31) and Northern Colorado (Jan. 12).

2015-16 (Redshirt): Redshirted during his first season at Montana.

High School: Is a 2015 graduate of Billings West High School… As a senior, led the Golden Bears in scoring (16.3 per game) and rebounding (6.4) and helped them to a 19-4 record and a second-place finish at the Montana AA state tournament… Was named to the all-state team, in addition to being a first-team all-conference selection… Played in the Montana-Wyoming All-Star series… As a junior, averaged 17.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game… Was named to USA Today’s 2013-14 All-USA Montana Boys Basketball Team… High school coach was Doug Robison, who won 355 games in 20 seasons at Billings West before stepping down at the end of 2014 year.

Personal: Born May 30, 1996 in Missoula, Mont. … Hometown is Billings, Mont. … Both parents, Shawn and Kim, graduated from Montana… His father was a two-time first-team All-Big Sky selection for the Griz, still ranking fifth for career rebounding (791) and 13thfor career scoring (1,293)… As a senior in 1995-96, he earned the Carl E. Dragstedt Award (team MVP)…. Has a younger brother, Shane… Has a daughter, Jordyn Ryan, who recently turned 1… Earned his undergraduate degree in business management in May 2019 from Rocky Mountain College… Is working toward his master’s in business administration.

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