BOUNTIFUL, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – Looking back, it was a perfect ending to an historic career for Sam Merrill.
Merrill hit the game-winning shot in the final seconds to beat San Diego State to win the Mountain West Tournament back in March. But, it has been a bit of struggle for Utah State’s second all-time leading scorer to get past the disappointment of not playing in the NCAA Tournament.
“I’ve moved on just understanding what’s ahead,” Merrill said via Zoom. “I’m so excited for this new chapter and new opportunity. I hope I can make the most of it. But I don’t know if I’m ever going to get over it. It was so disappointing, and understandably so, but just very disappointing. There is always going to be, for me and the entire team, there is always going to be a what if?”
Merrill is now focused on trying to become the first Utah State player selected in the NBA Draft since Greg Grant was taken in the 6th round back in 1986.
“It would be an incredible achievement,” said Merrill, who was the 2018-19 Mountain West Conference Player of the Year and 2020 Mountain West Tournament MVP. “I would be so grateful to represent Utah State and the entire state of Utah for that matter. [Lone Peak’s] Frank [Jackson] is the only player from Utah in the NBA right now. So being able to represent the state and Utah State would be incredible.”
Merrill has been working out on his own during the pandemic, and has lost ten pounds so far. Merrill has met with almost every NBA team on Zoom, and despite not being able to work out for teams in person, NBA scouts know how good Merrill is just by looking at his game film.
“I’ve received really positive feedback, much better than I would have even thought when I got into this process,” Merrill said. “I think the need to do deep dives in film without a certainty of having workouts or a combine has helped me because if teams do watch film of me, not just highlights of me scoring, but my defense and passing, I think I come across positively. The biggest thing I’ve been focusing on is just getting into great shape. I understand and teams understand my athletic limitations, but if you’re in great shape you can overcome that.”
While Merrill is confident he will get drafted whenever the NBA Draft is held, he is willing to begin his professional career in the G-League or overseas if necessary.
“I think I’m good enough to play in the NBA and many people have told me that,” said Merrill, who admits he needs to work on his ball handling skills. “So that is my number one focus right now. But if that means spending some time in the G-League or maybe possibly going over to Europe and playing at a high level over there, then that’s what it will be. Whatever it takes for me to reach my potential, that’s what I’m willing to do.”
Whatever happens to Merrill at the next level, he takes comfort in the fact that he is leaving Utah State in a much better place than when he started.
“Absolutely, that’s the reason why I went to Utah State,” Merrill said. “I grew up a Utah State fan and watched them win a lot of games. I wanted to make sure that people knew how good Utah State could be. To be a part of two very successful years, be able to leave, and I think the team is in great shape for next year. But to be a part of that is something that I’ll forever be grateful for.”