For years, Sam Cassell would ask his son one question after the youngster finished playing basketball.
“I’d say, ‘Did you have fun?’,” the older Cassell recalled.
That changed as the namesake of the longtime NBA player and now Washington Wizards assistant coach started taking a more serious interest in the game. The older Cassell now asks his son whether the team won.
When the younger Cassell returned home to Baltimore from prep school in Massachusetts last summer, something else had changed. He asked his father for the first time if they could workout together.
They spent four days a week, four hours a day at the Melo Center, honing the younger Cassell’s skills as a point guard.
“Little Sam really has only started to love the game and understanding the game,” Cassell said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “There’s a lot of pressure being the son of a former player and people expect him to be me.”
The younger Cassell, who last week became the sixth player to join Maryland coach Mark Turgeon’s first official recruiting class in College Park, is more of a 3-point shooter than his father was during a successful 16-year NBA career.
In the NBA, Cassell, who averaged more than 16 points and six assists while playing on eight different teams, helped the Houston Rockets win NBA championships in his first two years in the league in 1993-1994 and 1994-1995 and did the same for the Boston Celtics in his last season in 2007-08.
Cassell Jr. has certainly welcomed the idea of being more a point guard than his father was at Florida State, where the older Cassell once said, “This team doesn’t need me to be the set-up man. This team needs me to score points. If I’m the set-up man, we’re not going to win a lot of games.”
The younger Cassell said after last Saturday’s Capital Classic he hoped to play point for the Terps, who also signed Seth Allen of Fredericksburg, Va., to back up rising junior Pe’Shon Howard, the only true point guard Turgeon has on the roster.
Asked why he chose Maryland over Pittsburgh and South Florida, Cassell said, “I knew I could make a huge impact there as a freshman. They (the coaches) want me to come and change nothing, play the way I play and get stops at the defensive end.”
But the decision to attend Maryland was disputed by Cassell Sr. two weeks ago when he said a report of his son going to play for the Terps was incorrect. Both father and son now say that it was more about researching other programs than rejecting Maryland.
“We sat down and had a long talk,” the younger Cassell said. “I didn’t take any visits (before), I didn’t have a chance to compare any other schools to Maryland.”
In the end, Cassell said he realized, “there’s no place like home.”
Many thought Cassell Sr. still harbored ill feelings toward Maryland for the way the school treated his former high school coach, Bob Wade. It might have been one of the reasons he didn’t come to College Park after a year in prep school in 1988, a year before Wade was fired , but it had nothing to do with his son’s decision.
“Maryland was never really an option for me because of the whole Baltimore thing, but I wanted it to be his choice,” said the older Cassell, who has known Maryland assistant Bino Ranson for years. “I can’t wait to go to games in College Park.”
The older Cassell said that his son has more of a “throwback game” than many of the current college players and “that he’s going to be more of a point guard than I was in college. He’s beginning to understand that he has to put the time in and it takes a lot of work.”
There are parts of his game that will have to change.
That the younger Cassell cursed out a referee during the game Saturday is certainly something Turgeon won’t stand for and will have to monitor. Cassell admitted that his on-court persona is similar to his father, one of the chattiest NBA players in history.
“I like to talk a lot,” he said with a smile.
The decision to play at Maryland means the younger Cassell will be returning to his home state after spending the past two years at Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Mass. Cassell acknowledged that leaving Baltimore, where he started at Towson Catholic and also played at St. Frances, turned out to be for the best.
Asked if he would be in this position had he not stayed an extra year in prep school after getting his high school degree there, Cassell said, “I don’t know. Prep school is a whole different conversation. You’re playing against some of the top players in the country every night. It gets you ready for the next level…The last two years at prep school gave me my confidence and my swag on the court.”
There will undoubtedly be comparisons made to his father. Though the way her son plays reminds Shalonda Cassell of the kind of game her husband played, she said she told Sam Jr., “You have to have your own game.”
One noticeable difference is that the younger Cassell dunked in the Capital Classic. Told that it might have been a first for the Cassell family, the 6-4, 180-pound guard burst out laughing.
“He got a few dunks in his younger years,” he said.