Shot at Stardom

By Lloyd Graff

Jon Samuelson has three daughters, Bonnie, Karlie and Katie Lou. Two were in the NCAA Basketball Final Four over the weekend. A third started for Stanford and graduated in 2015. How do you end up with your three kids all starting for big time college programs? Start by having them shoot 500 shots every day with Dad checking the numbers and the form.

Jon Samuelson is 52. He played college ball himself at Cal Fullerton and Chapman College. He took his love for the game to England to play European Pro ball and met his wife Karen who was a Netball player, a poor cousin of basketball. The three girls have the b-ball genes and being over 6’ tall doesn’t hurt. The youngest, Katie Lou, was the most sought after, considered the top high school recruit in the 2015 class. She picked UConn, which had won 111 games in a row before losing to Mississippi State in Saturday night’s semi-final.

When I researched the Samuelson family my a priori feeling was that Jon must have been a crazy, autocrat of a father, demanding his girls practice like fiends. This was the picture tennis great Andre Agassi painted of his father who he despised. I have this image of the Indian and Chinese parents who relentlessly drill their kids on spelling words day after day hoping they will win the National Spelling Bee.

Karlie, Jon, Katie Lou and Bonnie Samuelson. Courtesy of ESPN. 2014

But the Samuelson girls portray a tableau of a loving family of jocks who were in constant search of vacant gyms to practice in. Jon delighted in seeing them surpass his skills, though he still thinks he can beat them at HORSE because he is ambidextrous. They have trouble with their left hands.


It’s baseball season again, and I’ve been bubbling with anticipation. My Cubs are stacked, but it is extremely hard to repeat even if you have a great team.

On paper, the Cubs are superior to last year’s team. They are better at catching, possess the best defense in the game, and sport a superior offense with Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras who will be playing most of the games in 2017.

But the team has something special that cannot be easily quantified – players with character and leadership. Start with Anthony Rizzo and Jon Lester, both cancer survivors. Rizzo spends at least one day a week at Lurie Children’s Hospital, really connecting with kids with cancer. Matt Scczur, an important substitute outfielder, is a bone marrow donor.

Jason Heyward, who signed a huge contract last season and had a disappointing year, held the crucial meeting during the rain delay of the seventh game of the World Series to rally the team to victory. He spent a grueling winter working with special instructors to remake his swing despite being guaranteed $25 million a year.

Heyward also paid out of his own pocket for an upgraded hotel suite for third string catcher, David Ross, last season that could hold his whole family during every road trip. This is something I have never heard of before.

Kris Bryant, last year’s National League MVP, beat out his closest friend, Rizzo, for the award. They are such close buddies they had jerseys made up with an amalgamation of their two names, Bryzzo, to wear.

Miguel Montero, the Cubs backup catcher, is tutoring his replacement, Contreras, a fellow Venezuelan. The Cubs also signed John Jay for $8 million to be a utility outfielder and coach his friend and protégé from Miami, Albert Almora, who will start in Center.

This collection of young men is very special. Theo Epstein, Cubs President, understands that you do not just put together an assortment of batting averages and 90-mile per hour sliders. Over a 6-month season, character and chemistry make a tremendous difference when things get tough. Same goes for a business or a Boy Scout troop.

I like the Cubs’ chances in 2017 to repeat.

Question: Did you push your kids too hard, not enough, or the right amount?

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8 thoughts on “Shot at Stardom

  1. AvatarArt Santana

    One is a professor at a major college; two runs a region for Union Pacific, three is a Math major, doing well; four is a piano major, also doing well, five is a micro biologist with a good job and six is in the midst of mechanical engineering maintaining the same 4.0 GPA his older siblings did. All six earned full ride academic scholarships.
    Dad is just a proud Papa ; not bad for a poor immigrant that crossed the border with 20 dollars as his whole fortune and seeking the American dream. Love this country!
    Did I push them too hard? I think not.

  2. Lloyd GraffLloyd Graff

    Curious, Art.
    When did you come? Were you “legal” at the time? How do you feel about a Wall? Feel free to call me at Graff Pinkert.

  3. AvatarSara

    We do push our kids and provide them with opportunties. However, it has to be well balanced with academic and sports. Hard to do as they grow older. Also having enough money in the family budget to have the opportunties fine tuned. I think the hardest thing is to remember they are children and God isn’t finished with them. Too much too soon can remove the interest. Plus we only hear the success stories.

  4. AvatarTony

    Pushed them to excel at sports?- probably not hard enough.
    Push them to be honest, patient, moral, unselfish people with high integrity and values, who continually try to make themselves and those around them better? Never stop pushing- you cannot push these things too hard.

    1. AvatarVictor

      In my humble opinion, patience is a key component for perseverance. And perseverance is absolutely necessary for success in any endeavor.

      Another thing – a great antidote for anger is patience. I find when I am angry, if I can create some patience within me that helps to dispel much of the anger. I have heard it said, “The opposite of anger is patience.”

  5. AvatarPaul Huber

    Our son (10) tells me that we are very strict but we always love him. We push academics but we include him in our decision making process for all other activities. At age 8 he was successfully playing the role of Jerome in a production of South Pacific at a local professional theater. He did enjoy it but it seems that doing 27 performances in one month was enough for him. No pushing in this case, we let him be!
    Forty five years ago I did fire my stepson for missing work once to often. Five years later he rejoined as my partner and we still work together.
    Tough love seems to work well !

  6. AvatarKevin

    The Cubbies are the team to beat, but I don’t think the’re going to go two years in a row barely missing a start from the starting five. The baseball gods are seldom that kind. Within the division the Cards and Pirates are both improved over last year. I will say that Schwarber is an absolute hitting machine who will lead the league in hitting sooner than later.


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