Northwestern’s Samuelson signs with Cornell

bmccormick@heraldonline.comJanuary 22, 2014 

Sixty-one thousand dollars. That’s how much scholarship money Northwestern senior Paige Samuelson will receive annually from Cornell University to play for the Big Red women’s basketball team.

Samuelson signed that deal on Wednesday during a brief gathering at the school. The 6-foot-4 Trojan shot-blocker will get to test herself academically and athletically in the Ivy League, and at no charge to her mother, Jodie Whiteley.

“It’s wonderful,” Samuelson said. “I’m just so lucky, because my brother and sister are in college and are struggling pay for it just like everyone else, and I get to go for free to such a prestigious school. It’s really amazing.”

“She has really kept things in perspective as far as academics and athletics,” said Northwestern head coach John Bramlett. “By her going to Cornell University, I think it says a lot about her as a girl.”

About 30 schools, including Brown University, another Ivy League institution, chased Samuelson’s uncommon height, and her 4.52 grade point average. Presbyterian and Wofford were a few of the other options that interested Samuelson, but the chance to live the Ivy League experience was far too much to pass up.

“She wasn’t sure about big or small, near or far, and the (assistant) coach made a special visit to see her play. He flew in just to see her play and asked her AAU coach to get her there,” Whiteley said.

Samuelson’s solo audition on a Tuesday night late last year went well and her nerves about an Ivy League school hundreds of miles away were eased.

“They were gung-ho, and he got her excited,” Whiteley said. “She started to say, ‘well, maybe, I’ll consider an Ivy League school.’ We went to New York for a visit and that was it, she was sold.”

Samuelson and her mom visited the school, based in Ithaca, N.Y., in early December, and Samuelson was enamored with the small town feel of the place.

“The college is what makes the town big,” said Samuelson. “If it was in New York City, that’d just be kind of overwhelming to me. So, I really liked the setup.”

Samuelson will major in “biology in society,” a non-medical science program. She and her mom moved to Rock Hill about six years ago from Wisconsin, so the white, wintry weather of Upstate New York isn’t as intimidating to her as it would be to some newcomers to that area. The trip transformed what was only a far-fetched thought several years earlier, into a snowball-hard opportunity.

“I never really thought I would be playing, but as the years have gone by and I’ve gotten better, I realized there was the possibility,” said Samuelson. “So, it just kind of formed, but it’s still kind of unbelievable.”

The lithe senior isn’t a huge offensive threat yet - she averages about 10 points per game - but her height makes her a factor defensively. Samuelson averages 10 rebounds and two blocked shots per game and her innate ability to protect the rim, often as simple as putting her arms straight up in the air, has allowed Northwestern to be more aggressive defensively on the perimeter.

“We can do things because of her, take chances defensively because she’s back there,” said Bramlett. “Our defense starts with her, especially in our press.”

Wednesday morning, Whiteley said her daughter came back from Cornell a different person, a feeling that’s been born out on the basketball court this winter.

“She has become more of a leader this year,” said Bramlett. “She’s not the most talkative person, but she leads by example. She’s very hardworking, obviously in the classroom and basketball, and sometimes it just takes other kids to watch her do that.”

A $61,000 scholarship brings smiles, but also some pressure. Samuelson was asked what makes her more nervous, Ivy League basketball or academics?

“Academics,” she said, before adding, “Balancing both actually.”

Bret McCormick •  803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T

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