Former Mt. Tabor star making a name for herself in coaching world

Former Mt. Tabor star making a name for herself in coaching world
April 07
12:46 2021

Kendra Samuels-Eaton has known since middle school that the game of basketball could take her places. Not only did the game provide a full scholarship to college, it has now provided career opportunities as Samuels-Eaton is currently the associate head basketball coach for the women’s team at UNC-Pembroke.

Samuels-Eaton was a standout player for Mt. Tabor in the mid-2000s before she headed to Western Carolina to play college basketball. After graduation, Samuels-Eaton has been on a path to success that seems to just be getting started.

Compared to other players, Samuels-Eaton picked up the game of basketball at a rather advanced age. It wasn’t until eighth grade that she decided to give the sport a chance.

“I wasn’t into basketball until the eighth grade,” she said. “Prior to that, I used to march with the Yettes at the YMCA with Mo Lucas, and I did that for a few years before I even started playing basketball. I would say my brother got me into playing the sport.”

Byron Samuels, Samuels-Eaton’s uncle, was a coach and she spent a lot of time watching him coach the game of basketball and enjoyed it, so once she started playing, she took to it like a fish to water.

“When I got into it, I enjoyed being able to compete against other people and being able to travel,” she said. “I just fell in love as soon as I touched it.”

During the AAU season of her eighth-grade year, Samuels-Eaton blossomed to the point where she was able to make the varsity team at Mt. Tabor as a freshman. Her strength and ability to play around the basket was further along than most girls her age and was something she learned playing basketball with boys at the local playgrounds.

“Where I grew up was at Millbrook apartments and there was really not a lot of girls that played basketball, so my brother would take me up to Hanes Hosiery with him and I would just play against them,” she stated. “Once I started competing with the guys and then ultimately beating them, I thought I could possibly have a collegiate career with this.”

While at Tabor, Samuels-Eaton developed her game tremendously, thanks to her coaches. She says they challenged her to be the best player she could be and held her to high standards.

“I had to show every year that I was worthy of my spot, nothing was ever given to me,” she continued. “So, I just competed every day and worked hard on my game every day.”

During her junior year, there were some very big highs and lows for Samuels-Eaton. She eclipsed the 1,000-point barrier in her junior year, but also tore ligaments in her knee and had to have surgery in the summer.

The recovery process after surgery was a tough one for her, because her goal was to try and get back on the court for her senior year to play.  

“My PT (personal trainer) was great and he basically pushed me,” she said about her injury. “Like any other person, it was a blow to me, and I was just frustrated and down and out, but I had to make a decision that this is something I wanted to do and something that can help me get into school. I had to switch gears and get into that mindset of getting back and showing what I can do my senior year.”

Samuels-Eaton fought her way back onto the court six months later to help her team make a playoff run, as well as showing college coaches she was still the same player. When it came to choosing a college, her mind was made up early. Western Carolina was one of the first schools to recruit her and maintained contact, even through rehab of her injury, so it was an easy choice for her to choose the Catamounts.

“I’m different and Western Carolina started sending letters before anyone,” she said about her recruiting. “The coach at the time, which was Kellie Harper, who is now the coach at Tennessee, she never saw me play and I thought that was a great thing. A lot of the other schools that were recruiting me knew I tore my ACL and they wanted to wait to see how I did my senior year, but my whole mindset was that you never know what’s going to happen.

“Western Carolina stayed with me throughout the whole process of me tearing my ACL, so Western was the only school I took an official visit to. When I went up there it was great, the team was great, the atmosphere was great, and the community was great.”

One of the things that won Samuels-Eaton over during her visit was when Harper, formerly Jolly, brought out her national championship rings to show her. Harper was a player at Tennessee under then coach Pat Summitt during the 1990s and won three national titles while there.

It was apparent from day one that there was a big talent gap between high school and college, Samuels-Eaton said. Most of the adjustments she had to make were on the court. Because she was an above-average student, the academic side of college was not a problem for her.

“Throughout my time in school, I ended up with a 3.5, so the academic part was actually the easiest,” she said about college.  

Samuels-Eaton graduated from Western Carolina in 2009 with a degree in sports management with a concentration in athletic administration. While there, she became a member of the 500-point club and appeared in 117 games for the Catamounts. In her four years, she accumulated 721 points and 524 rebounds and led the Catamounts to a Southern Conference Tournament title and a berth to the NCAA tournament during her senior year.

She went on to earn her master’s degree in physical education and sports science from Central Missouri in 2011. She was recently accepted into East Tennessee State’s Global Sport Leadership Doctorate program, which she will be starting in the fall.

Playing professional basketball was not something that interested Samuels-Eaton after graduation and neither was coaching, she said. Initially, Samuels-Eaton took a position at Western as the coordinator of academic support services for student-athletes for two years.  

Following that position at her alma mater, she became the coordinator of basketball operations at Wake Forest. In that role, she handled the day-to-day operations of the team by handling travel and developing content for the women’s basketball team website, for example.

Coaching was still not on Samuels-Eaton’s radar while at Wake. She was at the point where she was still trying to figure out what she wanted to do career-wise.

“Initially, I never wanted to be a basketball coach, honestly,” she said. “I really wanted to be in athletic administration, like an assistant AD somewhere, but I believe everything happens for a reason.”

Samuels-Eaton’s next move was to North Carolina Central University, where she obtained her first coaching position. She was an assistant coach under Vanessa Taylor.

“It was good because out of my whole life, I never worked at an HBCU,” Samuels-Eaton stated. “That’s another one of those things where if an opportunity opens up and I have an opportunity to do something I’ve never done, I’m going to do it.  

“That whole thing was a great experience just to see how our schools are run and see the excitement about an HBCU and I was able to see that at Central,” she went on to say.  

Samuels-Eaton found her way to her current destination at UNC-Pembroke after leaving Central. She stated that she has enjoyed her time at UNCP tremendously, while also learning a lot in her position as associate head coach.

“It’s great, it reminds me of my school at Western,” she stated about her position at UNCP.  “It’s a small college town with great people around and very diverse. It’s probably one of the more diverse schools in North Carolina because of everyone that is there.  

“The coach that I am working under, he’s been in coaching for 30-plus years,” she continued. “John Haskins is a great guy and I am able to learn so much from him, so it’s been a pleasure just being there and learning. I call him rain man because he knows every type of play in basketball and it’s really helped me with the X’s and O’s as a coach.”

As the associate head coach, there are several duties that she is responsible for.  From scheduling practices and workouts, to ordering equipment, handling scheduling, and recruiting are just a few of the things Samuels-Eaton is responsible for in her role on top of her duties on the sidelines.

“As long as my head coach and the players are happy I am fine, I don’t need all the glory, because at the end of the day as coaches our job is to make sure these ladies graduate and that’s the biggest piece of coaching from my perspective,” Samuels-Eaton said.

Samuels-Eaton says she doesn’t like to predict the future.  She is a self-admitted loyal person that doesn’t like to seek out new opportunities.  Her focus is on the young ladies in her program right now.

“I really like to inspire young ladies, because I come from a single parent household and I enjoy giving them a role model and showing them that they can be successful and that’s my main thing,” she said.  “I love to inspire young black women and that’s a big thing for me.  I tell them that anything is possible if you work hard and do what you have to do.”

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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