Pittsburgh, PA — This summer, Duquesne women’s basketball guard Anie-Pier Samson came to a very important realization as a basketball player, she had to hit a reset button.
Samson never fell out of love with the game of basketball, but it was hard to feel part of the team when she missed practices, was behind on plays and lacked confidence because of biomedical engineering labs and meetings.
The easy thing to do would have been to accept a bench role with limited playing time and make the most of her opportunities, but Samson, wanted more than that.
“At practice this summer I was aiming to tell myself that I am a basketball player and that I could do this,” she said. “I can shoot, dribble and drive. I would say to myself, ‘You used to do this, you used to be respected for this. Now you feel like you can’t even shoot.’ I am a basketball player, I’ve been one for 10 years. This one year in my life, I felt like you I was only a student. I had to teach myself that I was a basketball player.”
Samson always was a good teammate, but wanted to make the most of her on-court experience and in May went right to work.
In September, she received a call and on the other end was her father Marc-Daniel. It had been a long summer in which Samson was tested in a variety of ways and her father called just to say how proud he was and how far she had come.
“My dad told me over the phone, ‘I have so much respect for you right now because at the point where you were at last year, I thought you were coming home and not going back,” Samson said.
Months of hard work have led to an Anie-Pier Samson that is driven and ready to take on an increased role for Duquesne this season.
Rebuilding that confidence
This summer Samson was faced with an important decision whether to go back home to Saint-Bruno, Quebec or stay in Pittsburgh. In her heart of hearts she knew what the right call was.
Samson stayed in Pittsburgh working on both her game and her confidence, both of which were critical if she wanted to achieve success.
“I really didn’t like how last season felt and ended and just was,” Samson said. “I can’t go home because if I go home, there’s no gym. I would have to work out in the park near my house. I have to just run hills because there is no lifting. The gym here (at Duquesne) is five minutes away from my room and I am so grateful to be here right now.”
She made this decision after the Atlantic 10 Championships when Duquesne fell to Dayton.
“I knew that if I could catch up physically that my confidence would come back,” said Samson. “On the bus ride back from Richmond, I just thought that would never happen again. That loss just affected the team so much and I think we all thought that will never happen again and we will win a conference championship this year and that we will go to the NCAA Tournament this year. If I can be the best player I can to help the team, we are going to be better. That is being a good teammate and being happy with myself.”
Samson’s journey this summer began with Duquesne strength and conditioning coach Dennis Cuturic. She also did workouts with her team twice a week for an hour and in addition to that, she went to The Scoring Factory in Pittsburgh where she worked with coach Ian Johnson.
Johnson is quite familiar with the Atlantic 10 having graduated Davidson College and playing for men’s basketball coach Bob McKillop. Additionally Johnson trained Andre Marhold who was a member of the Duquesne men’s basketball team from 2009-2013. In his playing career, Marhold increased his point total from 0.8 to 6.0 points per game.
Just a day after Samson got off the plane in Pittsburgh, Johnson first met Samson and saw a raw freshman that was just opening her eyes to see how big, different and vast college basketball is.
“Her freshman year, I don’t think went quite the way she wanted it to go,” he said. “It was kind of a sucker punch for her so she attacked the gym this summer with a vigor that surprised me and I think surprised everyone around her. From when I started working with her, just a couple of weeks after her season ended until the middle of the summer, there was just a tremendous uptick in how she handled herself and carried herself.”
With Johnson, the sessions both had on the court were physical and mental. Some of the discussion centered around carrying the mental mindset and with Johnson being a former player himself, he shared some of his experiences. On the physical side of things, Samson was able to transform her body to better handle the rigors a season can provide.
In addition to working with Marhold, Johnson worked with Erin Waskowiak as she tried to come back from a couple of serious longer-term injuries. Samson joined a couple of these workouts and though there were two different situations, he did note one important commonality.
“There’s a fight,” Johnson said. “Coach Burt has done a great job putting a fight in each of them. They both wanted to get to each of their goals. AP came and worked out with Erin a couple of times. Having worked with Erin for a while, I was able to relate better to AP.”
Samson enjoyed her experience of working Johnson.
“Working with Coach Ian really helped me because it was someone outside of Duquesne who had never seen me before,” said Samson. “He really helped me with some personal tips instead of being for the team. I would work out before practice to keep it going.”
From Samson’s perspective, a big part of Johnson’s time was spent building her confidence and incentivising success.
“If I was shooting and I missed it, he would make me run, or do push-ups for what felt like forever,” Samson said. “He told me I couldn’t be a great player unless I had confidence in myself. That really helped because I felt like I could do stuff instead of last year when I really got down on myself a lot.”
While staying in Pittsburgh certainly gave Samson confidence, the successes both at Duquesne and The Scoring Factory over the summer also contributed to that.
Part of what got Samson so down was seeing everyone else’s background and then comparing it to hers. To practice, Samson would go to that park near her house and draw the three-point line for herself. Now it is another reminder of how grateful she is to be at Duquesne, where she can work out in a bigger gym regardless of the weather.
There also was overcoming just getting used to America where everything from streets to playing styles are different.
Duquesne actually was the first program to notice Samson and it was at an AAU Tournament in Washington, D.C. Samson’s coach at the time told Burt about her and a letter came shortly after. Samson still has a picture of that first letter Duquense sent.
“I never thought I would get to this level and be in demand,” said Samson. “It just seems like paradise.”
That paradise may have seemed anything but during a freshman year where classes and off-court responsibilities limited practice and playing opportunities. Despite a tiring season for the entire team, everyone was willing to assist Samson after practice so she could catch up to speed.
Still the confidence dropped because it was tough learning plays when you are not able to practice.
“I would always be late on every play or on defense I would miss really important, basic stuff,” Samson said. “That really got me behind a lot and I could feel it. I didn’t give up because you can’t give up, but I was just overwhelmed.”
At the same time, Samson was trying to master the English language. She attended Dawson College, which is a publicly funded pre-university Canadian college. Samson had learned French first and was introduced to English at Dawson College which is the American equivilent to 12th and 13th grades.
Still upon coming to Duquesne, she had a lot of English to learn, but believes that she really learned English at the university.
“I always think of myself as a different person when I speak English, it’s so weird,” said Samson. “I get to think in English and I dream in English and you learn a new way to think and I don’t know how to describe it.”
While she balanced her basketball struggles and learning of English, it was the former which was tougher for Samson to try and solve.
“On this team we have so many that speak different languages, accents are nothing,” she said. “Accents are just the way a person is and we don’t even think about accents any more. Picking my game up was much harder, because you have to work on yourself and instead of putting what’s wrong in the back of your head, you have to actually figure it out.”
From a mentality perspective, Samson tried to define how her past year went and explained some of the strides she has made.
“I think last year’s AP was overwhelmed,” said Samson. “I get down on myself a lot less and I try to keep my head up. I just tell myself to go to the next play or next possession. There’s still two hours of practice, I can’t get down on myself, it’s not over yet. At the end of the day you are here to play basketball and enjoy it. If you’re not enjoying it, just go home.”
Turning the page
To say the first year of Samson’s college experience was a learning experience would be a tremendous understatement. There were several low points but now a sophomore, Samson has moved on and is determined.
“I think it’s getting better now,” Samson said. “In the second year you know more and more about yourself. Being away from home can be hard but it is beneficial because you grow so much and you learn so much about yourself. My whole family is just amazing, I don’t know what I would do without them. I’m grateful for learning so much this past year.”
Duquesne projects to start Chassidy Omogrosso, Conor Richardson and Julijana Vojinovic this season, but with Nina Aho out for the year, Samson will be counted on to provide meaningful minutes this season.
Coach Dan Burt has called Samson “our most improved player” and “a freshman who really had to learn how to play basketball.”
“She’s a great example of basketball today and the fact that she had a great trainer,” he said. “She’s had copious amounts of training but didn’t play,” he said. “Her feel for the game is still a little behind where I want it to be but her skill level is very good and she is a legit 6-foot-2 guard.”
Duquesne recruited Samson to be a 6-foot-2 version of Emilie Gronas. With Duquesne, Gronas had the ability to get open and make shots. This entails running her off screens to get open looks and take a shot.
Burt conceded this may take some time and both he and Samson believe that the basketball IQ will continue to develop.
It is a point Johnson agreed on as well as he feels Samson is a very intelligent individual but those smarts may at times get in the way of her getting into the flow of game play.
“I think my basketball IQ could be better, that’s for sure,” said Samson. “It is definitely better than it ever has been all my life. You learn a lot not just from your coaches but your teammates. I pay them a lot of respect.”
Samson has had these conversations with Burt and sees Gronas as someone who improved on both sides of the ball and was able to take a leadership role in her senior year.
Samson will be able to fulfill this role in games Duquesne has leads in as well as practices.
“She’s a great model,” Samson said of Gronas. “I like how she took from her country, brought it here and then went back there and did great things again.”
Now Samson is able to attend each practice, something which quickly brought a smile on her face as she sat in the otherwise empty Palumbo Center seats.
“That’s the biggest change and I am happy I get to do that,” said Samson. “I don’t think anyone understands that as much as I do. Last year I never felt like part of the team in practice because I was late and then had to go to class.”
Though the past year certainly was trying in many respects for Samson, it proved how much love Samson has for basketball.
“I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t love it,” Samson said. “I don’t know what I would do sometimes if it wasn’t for my teammates, they really are my friends. We’re all in this together and if one person isn’t feeling it on a particular day, it’s always us being together helping each other out.”