Willma Samuel moved her family across the borough, to a quiet street in the South Canarsie section of Brooklyn.
"I wanted Terrence to grow up with peace," she said, referring to the youngest, by far, of her three boys. "My older sons grew up where it was very rough."
Terrence Samuel, though, often disturbed the peace with his incessant dribbling on the asphalt.
"He was always in the street, pounding the ball," she said, unable to hold in her boisterous laughter as she watched her son play from the bleachers last weekend at Baruch College. "And one of my neighbors would always complain to me, 'I can't get any rest.' … Now, when he sees me, he congratulates me."
Peace and quiet is relative in the city that never sleeps. Roughly 96,000 people live Canarsie, or 17,000 per square mile. Terrence Samuel, a senior at South Shore High, will soon be leaving the neighborhood for pastoral Storrs, Conn.
"Man, the campus is huge," he said. "I'm afraid I'm going to get lost and be late for practice."
Willma Samuel, who left her native Granada for New York in 1977, is an administrator with Bank of New York/Melon and also works with the mentally challenged in the city. One day she got a phone call telling her that Terrence, about 12, had broken his ankle playing football.
"I had a fit," Willma said. "I told him, that's it, no more football. Terrence said, 'But Mom, I have to play something. Do you want me to play football or basketball?' I said, basketball. And that was that."
How far Samuel might have gone as a quarterback seems irrelevant now. He began following Kemba Walker's career at UConn and decided that was where he wanted to go, to follow the Taliek Brown-Kemba Walker-Omar Calhoun path from New York City to UConn. When he was offered the chance, he jumped at it on Labor Day weekend and never wavered through the coaching turmoil that ended with Kevin Ollie's contract, announced on Dec. 29.
Samuel is not a highly touted point guard, but as his Twitter feed — @TsamuelUConn — frequently attests, it would be hard to find a player more excited about joining the Huskies. And that attitude goes a long way with his future coach, also an overachieving guard a generation ago.
"Terrence is going to be a solid guard for us," Ollie said. "He's a big guard, 6 feet 3 and 200 pounds and chiseled as a rock. He makes people around him better. He's a great passer, great vision, getting people open shots. And he's got a great smile, great enthusiasm about the game. He's not going to be a guy who comes in here and dazzles you — one and done, he's not that. But kind of like me, he'll just matriculate his way through the system and continue to get better. I think the sky's the limit for the kid, because he works exceptionally hard."
Once Samuel committed to basketball, he got more serious about his school work and raised his grades dramatically from junior high to high school. He could have gone to any number of more successful programs, but he went to his neighborhood's public school and helped turn the Vikings into a city playoff team.
This past weekend he scored 38 points in two games to win an MVP Trophy in the Big Apple Basketball Invitational at Baruch College in Manhattan, getting 17 points, six assists and three steals in South Shore's 13-point win over prospect-laden Pope John XXIII from New Jersey. He scored 21 on Saturday, including the winning basket, in a win over Princeton Day Academy of Maryland.
"It takes a certain kind of person," Ollie said. "Loyalty, integrity, to stay in his neighborhood and try to build something up. ... He's done a wonderful job, changing from maybe a borderline of being a bad student to now being a very good student. That shows you what kind of person he is, he has drive and he has purpose now as a young man living in this world. He knows who he is as a person, and how he's going to accomplish those goals. He's going to be a great person for the style of play and what we're trying to create here, a great person we want to help build this brand."
Ollie and Samuel speak frequently on these topics.
"He tells me what he wants me to bring to the table at UConn," Samuel said. "He wants me to keep my teammates involved, and to work hard every day. 'While you're sleeping, someone else is working.'"
Kentan Facey, another UConn commitment for next season, played with Samuel on an AAU team in New York. "He's a great teammate," Facey said. "Really a good passer."
His mom said he is shy in interviews, but Terrence, perhaps from his quarterbacking days, shows a take-charge attitude on the court, and his teammates seem to respond to his lead and his exuberance. He can, at times, get carried away with passing.
"He can be unselfish to a fault," said Michael Beckles, the coach at South Shore.
Samuel watches every UConn game that he can, with the Huskies on SNY. He focuses on the Huskies' spectacular guard play from Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. When Samuel was at UConn in August, he and Napier met in the weight room.
"He shook my hand and said, 'UConn is the greatest school in the world,' but I already knew that," Samuel said. "I've got big shoes to fill. I see myself being kind of like Shabazz Napier, but I've got to improve my jump shot."
The challenges will be many for Samuel. But for him, the focus is singular, and it's not surprising.
"My mom is my everything," he said. "She supports me in everything. She's worked hard, worked nights a lot of the time. … I'm going to be the first of her sons to graduate from high school and go to college, and I just want to make her happy."