The Iona men's basketball team defeated Siena, 87-86, in overtime March 6, to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time since the 2011-12 season.
Graduate senior guard Sam Cassell Jr., the son of former Paul Laurence Dunbar High School standout guard and 15-year NBA veteran Sam Cassell, is averaging 10.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game for the Gaels this season. Cassell, a Baltimore native who played at St. Frances before finishing his high school career at a Massachusetts prep school, committed to Maryland in 2012, however, he was ruled academically ineligible.
After focusing on academics during the 2012-13 academic calendar year, Cassell played one season at Chipola College, a junior college in Marianna, Fla., and then transferred to UConn before the 2014-15 season. During his two seasons with the Huskies, Cassell battled injuries, playing in 36 games. He transferred to Iona for his final year of college eligibility.
Glenn Clark Radio
March 14 to discuss, among other things, the Gaels' run to the NCAA Tournament, the effect Baltimore has had on his life and what it was like to grow up as the son of a local sports icon.
How much influence did the presence of head coach Tim Cluess have on your decision to finish at Iona?
Sam Cassell: When I came in on my visit, Coach Cluess and the rest of the coaching staff and all the players opened their arms and accepted me. It just felt like I was at home. It just felt like I knew these guys my whole life. So I just knew Iona was the place for me as soon as I came on my visit. ... It definitely was a long journey -- about three schools. … I landed here; better late than never. So, I can't complain, I'm going to the NCAA Tournament and won a conference championship. So, there's no complaining.
Has Baltimore fostered a toughness within you on the basketball court?
SC: Oh, you have to. One thing, coming from Baltimore, toughness is something you can't get rid of. Because when you go back home, that's just something that you have to have -- and confidence. Confidence has to always stay at an all-time high.
What are some of the pressures, expectations and advantages that come with being the son of a Baltimore hoops legend?
SC: I could just say, growing up, a lot of people just tried, basically, on the basketball side, they always just tried to come at me, give me their best shot. That's what made me, that's what got me better each and every day, because I knew, every day I stepped on the court, someone was going to give me their best shot because of the name that I had, and I got better from that.
What was it like clinching an NCAA Tournament berth against Siena?
SC: Oh, it was wonderful. That game was a back-and-forth game; we scored, they scored -- they scored, we scored. Then it went to overtime. In overtime, we looked in the huddle, we looked at each other and said, "We're not going to lose this game." So,
our toughness came out. We just looked into each others' eyes, we just held each other accountable that we knew we were going to pull that game out.
Can you describe Iona's mindset entering the first-round matchup against Oregon March 17?
SC: Just stick to playing Iona basketball. We know that they're going to be a tough, physical team; they've got the Pac-12 Player of the Year [in junior forward Dillon Brooks], so that's going to be a tough job. We've just got to get stops; our defense is our main focus. … Defense, that's what I preach in practice, and that's what coach preaches to us in practice, so just play defense here this week. We want to get as many stops as we can possibly get.
For more from Cassell, listen to the complete interview here: