VISTA — Taurus Samuels is one of the top high school basketball players in North County. But he said for as long as he can remember, his mother, Maybel Nicolas, made sure he knew where his priorities should be.
Raised in a single-parent household, Samuels said he learned his work ethic from Nicolas — a U.S. Air Force veteran who makes a 190-mile daily commute to work in El Segundo.
“It was always the classroom first,” said Samuels, the starting point guard at Vista High School. “No matter what I accomplished in basketball, my mom always kept me focused on excelling in the classroom.”
The prioritization paid off for Samuels this month, as the rising senior guard announced his oral commitment to Dartmouth College of the Ivy League.
Samuels, who holds a 4.4 grade point average, said the opportunity to play basketball and prepare for his future after basketball with an Ivy League education was too good to pass up. This was music to mother’s ears. “I always knew as a minority you have to have education; I never had a lot growing up, my mom had to quit school at a young age,” said Nicolas, who moved Samuels to North County from San Pedro in 2010. “But my mom worked hard and she gave me more opportunities than she had, and I wanted to give Taurus more opportunities than I had, and with basketball, he’s going to have that.
“He’s using basketball now, not the other way around,” Nicolas said.
Samuels, 17, chose Dartmouth, a school not known for its exploits on the hardwood, over Montana, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and several other schools with better basketball programs.
“Obviously, Dartmouth, being an Ivy League school, that’s something that would’ve been very hard for me to say no to,” Samuels said.
But it was not an easy decision. Montana had heavily recruited Samuels since his sophomore year. Coaches regularly attended his high school and travel basketball games, and he grew fond of their staff.
“It was really tough for me because I had built a strong relationship with the coaches at Montana and with the school,” Samuels said. “But after talking with my mom and my coaches, I had to really evaluate my motivation in my decision. And after doing that, it was clear that Dartmouth was the right decision.”
Nicolas, who credited Samuels’ extended “basketball family” for much of her son’s character development, said she just reminded Samuels of where his priorities had been up until that point.
“He was really leaning toward the school with the better record, but I told him that academics have always come first so why should he change that now?” Nicolas said.
Samuels said that Dartmouth Head Coach David McLaughlin, who is entering his second season, sold him on coming in and having an immediate impact on a team that was last place in the Ivy League last season.
McLaughlin led Northeastern University to its first National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament appearance since 1991 in 2015, something Samuels said resonated with him.
“The things that the coaches want to accomplish there, to change the program around, that’s something that was very special and that I wanted to be a part of,” Samuels said.
For Samuels, his announcement is the culmination of a recruitment process that began during his freshman year, when he emerged as a starting guard on the Panthers varsity team. By his sophomore year, coaches named Samuels to the CIF San Diego Section 2nd Team, and he had received scholarship offers to several universities.
This past season, he led the Panthers to a semifinals appearance in San Diego’s highest basketball level, the CIF Open Division. His team advanced to the state Division 1 playoffs, where as the 11th seeded-team, the Panthers upset the No. 3 seed, Santa Margarita, in a double-overtime thriller.
He credited his emergence as a top prospect to the coaches at his high school and travel team, Gamepoint.
All the while, Samuels said, he made sure that he was on top of his work in the classroom, which included a heavy load of advanced placement and honors classes.
Samuels said he is not sure what he wants to do after college, though he would love the opportunity to play basketball professionally, either overseas or in the National Basketball Association.
But he said he feels confident that with an Ivy League education, his future will be bright.
“I am really excited that I am in this position, and I am so thankful to everyone who helped to guide me along the way,” Samuels said. “That list starts with my mother.”