MISSOULA — Jared Samuelson never wanted to leave the Montana men's basketball team, but he knew he had to. 

After suiting up with the Grizzlies for two seasons from 2015-2017, Samuelson needed to be closer to family, so he moved back to his hometown of Billings. There he played and thrived with NAIA Rocky Mountain College for two seasons, earning third-team All-America honors this past year. 

But deep down Samuelson knew he wanted to finish his career where he started. It was a lifelong dream of his to suit up for the Griz and follow in the footsteps of his father, Shawn Samuelson. 

So once Rocky's season came to a close, Samuelson said he began to think about the possibility of rejoining Montana. He reached out to check in and before he knew it he was in Missoula on the weekend of April 13 visiting the coaches with a chance to become a Grizzly once again. 

"Felt like it was the right spot and that's when the opportunity presented itself," Samuelson said. "It was something I couldn't say no to."

Samuelson will graduate from Rocky on May 4 with a degree in business management. After, he will enroll at UM as a graduate transfer and will be eligible to suit up immediately with the Griz for his final college basketball season. 

And once he finally rejoins, that will bring Samuelson full-circle in his college basketball career. 

"To end my career as a Griz and where it all started, I'm really fortunate and blessed that (head coach) Travis (DeCuire) and coach (Chris) Cobb and that whole staff gave me the opportunity to do this," Samuelson said. "It is a unique story and it's really cool.

"I look forward to being a part of the Griz again and having Montana across my chest."

Samuelson was up in Nashua working on his girlfriend's family farm over the weekend when he told 406mtsports.com he was coming back to Missoula. Then, earlier this week he took the time to explain why he left in the first place after a successful start with the Griz. 

Coming out of Billings West High School, Samuelson redshirted his first year with the Griz. Then as a redshirt freshman, he became a consistent role player, suiting up in 32 games and averaging 11.5 minutes, 5.1 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. 

But Samuelson felt he needed to be home and around his family, so despite his success so early in his young Griz career, he opted to leave Missoula and head back home and suit up for the Battlin' Bears. 

There, Samuelson found success right from the get-go. He averaged 18.8 points on 55.5 percent shooting and 7.5 rebounds per game in 2017-2018 and was named an honorable mention NAIA All-American. Then in this past season, he averaged 18.5 points and 7.7 rebounds per contest. Samuelson started every game he played in for Rocky. 

"It was awesome being able to be back and closer to home," Samuelson said. "I've got a lot of family members in this southeastern Montana area. My parents and brother were able to come to all of the games. It was nice to be able to play in front of a home crowd where a lot of my family members were able to make it to the games."

Even with new teammates and coaches, Samuelson said he had plenty of confidence in himself that allowed him to hit the ground running. 

And Samuelson has no regrets when looking back at his decision to leave. He knew what was best for him, so he opted for a different route.

But in the two years after he left, Montana went to the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons. 

Samuelson came into the program in the same class as Michael Oguine and Bobby Moorehead which was also Ahmaad Rorie's first year after transferring in. He suited up alongside Sayeed Pridgett, Fabijan Krslovic and Jamar Akoh and played with and against Kendal Manuel in high school, with the two battling in the 2015 Class AA state championship game and also suiting up together in AAU basketball and the Montana-Wyoming All-Star Series that same year. 

Anyone would understand if it was tough to sit back and wonder what could have been had he stayed. But when asked, Samuelson's tone carried admiration and happiness for his friends and former teammates and the success they had after he departed.

"It wasn't tough watching it because a lot of my good buddies played for the Griz," Samuelson said. "I can't say I look back and was upset. I was excited to see their success and see them do so good. I was still a huge Griz supporter being in Billings and playing for Rocky.

"I was happy for them and the coaching staff to see the success they were bringing to Missoula and the program."

For Samuelson, it was all about enjoying the moment no matter where he was. 

"At the end of the day, basketball is still basketball regardless of what level you are," Samuelson said. "I have a love for the game and that's what it's really about."

When it comes to his game on the court, the 6-foot-7 Samuelson said his perimeter shooting and free throw percentage have both improved drastically since his first time in Missoula. This past season he shot 40 percent (40-100) from deep with Rocky and converted 83.5 percent (137-164) of his attempts from the line. 

"I feel like I've matured as a player a lot and gotten stronger as well," Samuelson said. "I had a lot of confidence these past couple of years and that's helped a lot with my success."

After losing four seasoned vets in Rorie, Oguine, Moorehead and Akoh, Samuelson is a welcome addition to the Grizzlies. He'll add a veteran presence and much-needed depth in the post to a squad with some talented returners as Montana prepares for a Big Sky Conference regular season and tournament three-peat. 

"I'm going to want to contribute as best as I can for this team and play my role as best as I can and try to be the best leader I can for this team," Samuelson said. "I'm beyond excited for this opportunity."

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Kyle Hansen covers Griz men's basketball and more for the Missoulian and 406mtsports.com. Email him at kyle.hansen@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @khansen406

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