From Adversity to the Stars
Cal State East Bay Basketball standouts Mark Samuels and Brianna Terrance overcome obstacles to achieve success both on and off the basketball court
BY LINDA CHILDERS ’85
What many people don’t realize when they see pioneers point guard Mark Samuels sink a game-winning shot, or celebrate a team victory, is just how many obstacles he overcame to get to where he is today.
The road Samuels traveled to get to CSUEB began in Berkeley, where he witnessed many friends and family members fall prey to drugs and violence. Knowing at an early age that he wanted more out of life, Samuels found solace on the basketball court.
“The people who are closest to me realized I was focused and had a good chance to make it out of the neighborhood and to do something positive with my life,” Samuels says. “Basketball gave me a reason to exclude myself from certain situations, and also helped me get where I am today.”
Samuels’ parents encouraged their son’s love of the game and also emphasized the importance of education. “My dad grew up on the Berkeley streets, and the streets were all he knew,” Samuels says. “He definitely wished he could have gone further with his education, but he married young and was forced to provide for his family the best way he could.”
Samuels says his father was a good man who made some unfortunate choices. Although he was just a teen at the time, Samuels still remembers the sinking feeling he had after learning his dad had been arrested.
“I felt the weight was on my shoulders when he went to jail, because he was the primary source of financial support for my family,” Samuels says. “My mom was struggling, and I tried to do the best I could to be there for my mom, my sisters and also my younger brother.”
Samuels’ best was pretty impressive. He enjoyed an illustrious basketball career at Berkeley High, earning league MVP honors his senior year. His talent caught the attention of CSUEB coaches who were impressed by his ball handling, shooting and leadership skills. When Samuels was offered a scholarship at CSUEB, he readily accepted and joined the men’s basketball team as freshman in 2009.
“I liked the diversity of the campus, the fact that it was close to home, and I felt as if I could form relationships with my professors in a way that wouldn’t be possible at a larger university,” Samuels says. “I definitely wouldn’t have been able to attend college if I hadn’t received scholarship assistance.”
Director of Athletics Sara Judd says Samuels is the epitome of both superior athletics and academics. “Mark represents both who we are at CSUEB and the students we serve,” Judd says. “Not only is he a key player on the men’s basketball team, who has made the top ten list in many areas, he is also a local public school graduate who is very solid academically.”
In 2011, CSUEB was accepted as a full active member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II and the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA). A year later, in 2012, Samuels was named the CCAA Player of the Week for Feb. 13–19. In his junior year, Samuels led the Pioneers in scoring with 16.2 points per game, 5.0 rebounds per game and 3.0 assists
per game. Even after undergoing surgery for a herniated disc and being forced to sit out the 2012–2013 season, Samuels remained the team’s biggest supporter and cheered his teammates from the sidelines.
As a senior, Samuels has become the third-leading scorer in CSUEB history, and for the 2013–2014 season he is CSUEB’s second-leading scorer at 13.4 points per game. He has reached double figures in seven of nine games.
As he prepares to graduate this spring with a degree in kinesiology, Samuels knows that when he walks across the stage to accept his diploma that it will be a bittersweet occasion. His father, Mark, died in February 2011, and his mother, Linda, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer this past January. Living close to home has allowed Samuels, 22, the opportunity to juggle his studies
and basketball career, while also being present for his mother, sisters Marionna and Andrea, and brothers Douglas and Marcus.
“Getting my degree is special for many reasons,” Samuels says. “I’ll be the first in my family to graduate from college. It means a lot to me and to my family, and I hope I can be an inspiration both to my younger brother and others who may have thought about pursuing a college degree but didn’t believe it was a possibility.”
Samuels says he is proud of the part he has played being a part of the Pioneers, and that he has grown as a person as the result of his experiences at CSUEB. He is also adamant that basketball will always play a big part in his life.
“I’d like to play on an overseas basketball team for a few years before returning home to either work as a coach or an athletic trainer,” Samuels says. “And I definitely see myself returning to campus to watch my alma mater compete."
SHE’S ALL THAT (AND MORE)
On the basketball court, Brianna Terrance’s moves seem easy and effortless, but her path to landing a scholarship has been anything but smooth.
Terrance began playing basketball when she was in middle school. At 5 feet 8 inches she wasn’t the tallest on her team, but her determination and natural athletic ability made her a formidable opponent on the court.
When head Women’s Basketball Coach Suzy Barcomb recruited Terrance, she knew the Washington native was a solid athlete who could jump, but four years later she admits Terrance has exceeded even her highest expectations.
“If there was a most improved player award, Bri would get it every single year,” Barcomb says. “She works really hard and sets the bar very high, both with her studies and her basketball career.”
Terrance is the first to admit that she didn’t have a lot of structure in high school. “My teenage years were tough,” she says. “There was a period where there was substance abuse in the family, and my younger sister had to undergo five surgeries for a congenital heart defect.”
As one of eight kids, Terrance was used to working hard and living modestly. And although she wanted to go to college, she knew her family didn’t have the financial resources to pay for her tuition. When Barcomb approached her about the possibility of attending CSUEB on a scholarship, Terrance was thrilled.
“The NCAA and our own coaches set high expectations for our athletes, but Bri sets even loftier goals for herself,” Barcomb says. “She’s not happy with just a 3.5 GPA. She regularly attends study hall, even though she doesn’t have to do so, because she wants to graduate with a 4.0 GPA. And she doesn’t just rely on attending basketball practices. She works out on a year-round basis and continually sets goals for herself in an effort to improve her game.”
As she prepares to graduate from CSUEB this spring with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, Terrance is leaving the campus a different person than she was four years ago. In high school, she maintained a 2.8 GPA. Today, she has a 3.5 GPA and has mastered success both on and off the court. In February, she was named the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA)
Women's Basketball Player of the Week for Feb. 16–22. Her top 10 all-time CSUEB program records include 413 field goals (No. 1), 1,000 points (No. 3), a .473 field goal percentage (tied for No. 4), a .684 free throw percentage (No. 8) and 441 rebounds (No. 8).
For now, Terrance is keeping her career options open. “I’m still deciding whether I want to pursue a career as a police officer or as a deputy coroner,” Terrance says. “I do know that either way, I want to stay in the East Bay.”
Barcomb notes the 21-year-old athlete is extremely self-motivated, and supplements her scholarship money by taking on part-time jobs.
“I asked Bri once why she was so driven, and she told me that as the first in her family to graduate from college, she hopes to set an example for her younger siblings,” Barcomb says. “Having students like her is why I continue coaching.”