Every so often during his junior year at St. Frances, Sam Cassell Jr. showed flashes of high-major potential.
After leaving the Panthers to spend his senior year at Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Mass., moments where Cassell looked like a future big-time college player became increasingly regular. A standout summer on the circuit with Nike Baltimore Elite subsequently vaulted the 6-foot-4, 180-pound point guard to a different level of attention from colleges.
"Right now I'm getting interest from [schools in] the Big East, ACC and SEC," Cassell said Monday. "I always dreamed about it and it's coming true."
Cassell, who will return to Notre Dame Prep this fall for a postgrad year, said he grew "an inch-and-a-half" and added "probably 15, 20 pounds" of muscle over the past year. He said he averaged "around 14 or 15 points and … six assists" for the Crusaders, demonstrating an assertiveness his game may have lacked earlier in his high school career."My ball-handling and my aggressiveness [improved]," Cassell said. "I wanted to score all the time. I wasn't very aggressive [at St. Frances]. I was a laid-back type of player. Now I go after everything."
Nike Baltimore Elite's Carlton "Bub" Carrington said "maturity" was the biggest difference he saw in Cassell this summer. Carrington said he thinks Cassell could be an even better 3-point shooter than his father.
"At the end of the day, he can make shots. He can make the mid-range shot, and he can shoot the long ball," Carrington said. "He was our leading scorer at one time until he had to miss the L.A. trip because he was doing his schoolwork. Then he came back and he [said], 'I'll do whatever you need me to do right now.' I thought he was terrific."
Several high-major programs are now involved with Cassell, including Arkansas, Butler, Clemson, Florida State, Maryland, Missouri, South Florida, TCU, Villanova and Washington. Being recruited by the Terps and Wildcats, in particular, was unexpected.
"All the Big East and ACC schools, they were all surprising," Cassell said. "That shows how hard I've been working."
Cassell admitted that he has "always thought about going to Florida State" – his father's alma mater. And having grown up in Baltimore, Cassell is also intrigued by what Maryland has to offer.
"The thing I really like is [that the Terps] have a new coach," Cassell said. "I'm looking forward to watching this year, the offense they run and all that stuff. The fan base that they have, I love schools that have a lot of fans [like Maryland]."
Cassell said he currently has no favorites in his recruitment, but he's hoping to trim his list of schools to five by the time school starts this fall. He'll take his official visits, but is not necessarily set on signing during the fall period in November.
Carrington isn't sure where Cassell will eventually end up, but the level at which the point guard plays is "up to Sam."
"If he wants to be a passer first and a scorer second, I think he can play high-major ball because he has skills that translate," Carrington said. "He can make shots. To what level he goes, it's really up to him. He's definitely a high-major talent."
Baltimore Sun photo of Sam Cassell Jr. by Barbara Haddock Taylor / Jan. 31, 2010