Samuels-Eaton heads back to alma mater as coach

Kendra Samuels-Eaton

Samuels-Eaton heads back to alma mater as coach
September 01
14:26 2021

Mt. Tabor alum and 2005 Metro 4A Player of the Year, Kendra Samuels-Eaton, will now roam the sidelines of her alma mater, Western Carolina University, as associate head coach for the women’s basketball team.

Samuels-Eaton spent the previous four seasons at UNC Pembroke as an assistant coach and associate head coach last season. Catamount head coach Kiley Hill reached out to Samuels-Eaton earlier this year to gauge her interest in coming to Western Carolina.

“The crazy thing about it is I met him (Hill) a couple years ago at a recruiting event in Charlotte and we got to know each other and he had me do some things like speaking with the team and we hit it off from there,” said Samuels-Eaton about her meeting Hill. “He told me when he reached out to me that he kept thinking about me and he felt like I could help the program, being a former student athlete from Western.”

Once being approached by Hill, Samuels-Eaton spent a couple of weeks deciding what she was going to do. She did her due diligence by doing her research on Coach Hill and the current state of the program.

“It took a couple of weeks and I say that because I am always thinking about my next move, no matter if it’s in school or the workplace,” she said. “I take my time because you want to be happy wherever you go. I really had to do my research on Coach Hill because I had met him, but I really didn’t know him as a person. 

“During those two weeks I was able to talk to some people that had worked with him and talk to some players that played for him and I felt like he was a guy I wanted to work for and work with.”

While she was excited for her new opportunity, Samuels-Eaton was also saddened due to the fact she was leaving a program at UNC-P that she had high hopes for in the near future. She said it was tough breaking the news to the other coaches and the players.

“It was definitely hard leaving UNC Pembroke, because I was there for four years and I felt like the kids we brought in were definitely going to help us to get back to being a winning team,” she continued. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, because we had invested so much in each other.

“Honestly, I was told to wait to tell the team, but I really wanted them to hear it from me, because it was already ramblings about me leaving and I really wanted to tell the young people I was leaving before they hear it from someone else so they could get their emotions out, get their questions out, and let them understand why I left.”

Going back to coach at her alma mater was something that always intrigued her, said Samuels-Eaton. Having regrets is not something she enjoys, so taking this opportunity at this time was the right move for her.

“I never want any what-ifs in my life or my career and it’s a rare opportunity to go back and coach at your alma mater. And I felt at this time, it was the best time to move on and get us back to where we were, because Western Carolina hasn’t been successful since I graduated in 2009,” she said about why she took the job at Western Carolina.

Being a former student athlete at the school she is currently coaching for gives Samuels-Eaton a unique perspective that many coaches can’t give their players. She can let them know exactly what it takes to become successful on and off the court, because she has done it herself.

“It’s about giving the kids confidence and allowing them to ask questions and letting them know that it’s not easy, but it’s possible,” she said about what she can give to her players. “It’s being that light and being that encourager.”

Samuels-Eaton didn’t even have dreams of becoming a coach coming out of college in 2009. Her aspirations were to become an athletic director, but ended up going on a different path that sparked her interest in coaching.

Samuels-Eaton has worked at Wake Forest, North Carolina Central, UNC Pembroke, and now Western Carolina. She feels those previous positions working in different division levels, at an HBCU, along with a PWI, gives her a wide-ranging view of the world of coaching.

“I think it helps me be well rounded and I say that because I have been to the private Power 5 school, I have worked at the HBCU school, I’ve worked at a Division II predominately white institution, and now I am at a Division I mid-major,” she said. “It kind of gives me a perspective from all the athletes that I am dealing with and how to coach a different kid.

I think all those different schools have helped me be the best coach that I am today, because nothing really surprises me. I have been through pretty much everything that could happen to a student athlete. It helps me be able to relate to the kids a little bit more and tell them about my experience, as well as my story here at Western, because I have been in their shoes.”

Success is measured in several ways, says Samuels-Eaton. She of course would love to have more wins than the previous season; however, giving the ladies on the team more confidence and play to the best of their ability is more important for her.

Samuels-Eaton has excelled at all levels of her life. She doesn’t want people to think that it has come easy as she has put in all of the necessary work to get to this place in her life. She strives to be the best at any goal she is attempting to accomplish. On top of coaching, she also has entered into the doctorate program at East Tennessee State University and will be known as Dr. Samuels-Eaton in a few years.

“I am my biggest critic and I have that competitive spirit in me, because I always want to be the best,” she said about her drive to succeed. “I have goals and when I have those goals, I just try to attain them.  

“Nowadays, young people want to get from A to Z with the flip of a switch and you can’t do that. I realize that if I want to get to this main goal, I have to take these steps to get to that goal and I just try to put myself in position to make it to that goal.”

Samuels-Eaton is a reserved person and does not like to be in the limelight, but does like to represent her home city of Winston-Salem in a positive light. She also enjoys being a positive role model not only for her players, but also to other young ladies from Winston-Salem who strive for success in any avenue they choose.  

“To me, I like to pour into people,” she said. “It’s good that I am a role model, but I want the next generation to be better than me. So, if I can help you be better than me, let me know. My main priority is making sure these young ladies have someone to look up to, but also to have them walk across that stage, get that dream job or business. So if I can be an asset to making that happen, I’m happy.”

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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