The man of the hour, Austin Samuel, sat anxiously surrounded by a group of family and friends at his home just up street from his former high school, Salem. It was late in the morning on Wednesday and Samuel was signing to attend Faulkner State.
Samuel's new coach Jack Robertson arrived shortly after 11 p.m. and the festivities began. Samuel thanked everyone in attendance and gave a short speech about his plans for the future, telling everyone he plans to major in Biology. Then Robertson spoke on his plans for Samuel, how he won't play if he doesn't go to class and how he cares more about teaching Samuel about life than about basketball.
"If he can overcome poor coaching, he'll be alright," Robertson said jokingly.
"I chose Faulkner State because it's a family environment, it's a school on the rise and it's a school that best fits me and my playing style. I think it's a school where I can become a better person and it's a school where I can begin my journey at," Austin said.
In the midst of it all was Samuel, who just wanted everyone in the room to know how much he appreciated them and their support.
"I just want to thank everybody," Austin said.
"To see him actually accomplish something that he's been wanting, that he told me he would do when he entered high school, I think that's the most amazing thing," Donna Samuel, Austin's mother, said. "He told me, ‘If you allow me to [play basketball] you won't pay for my college,' and he said that at 13."
At 14, Samuel was told that he probably wouldn't be able to play basketball anymore because he had exercise-induced asthma.
"So to see him be told that he might have to give the sport up and him tell the doctor, ‘I'm not. We'll figure it out, but I'm gonna play,' and now today to see him sign this is a happy, happy moment for me," Donna said.
Growing up, Austin didn't want people to know he had asthma because he thought it was embarrassing. Austin didn't want an inhaler while he was on the bench and he didn't want coaches to know or people to think he was a sick. Now, none of that matters. Austin averaged 17 points per game and seven rebounds last season, suffice to say he may not be sick but his game is.
"It's very difficult," Austin said when asked what it was like for him playing with asthma, "but I think it's something that plays in my favor because I don't ever make that excuse for me. I always fight through it and I don't ever compare myself to anybody else all because I have asthma so I think it's a blessing in disguise."
Donna Samuel says that it's been a pleasure to watch her son accomplish the things he has. She used to be a little flabbergasted when she walked into a local store and people would ask about him.
"I have watched him grow as a young man through this sport to be a leader, to open his mouth and actually speak. Austin is really more of an introvert, he's very shy, basketball has brought that out and made him a people person," Donna Samuel said.
"I've seen him play already with the team and I think to see him actually now as a collegiate player at that level with kids that immediately gravitated toward him it was like, ‘We're happy you're here.' I think that was a big wow," she added.
Austin says that he plans to play D-l basketball after he leaves Faulkner, but he wants to pursue a career beyond the court after college.