When Florida landed a commitment from 2020 wing Samson Ruzhentsev they got the exact player they needed and the kind of versatile small forward that they have lacked over the last few seasons. There aren’t many players available with his size at 6’7”-6’8” and the ability to shoot, and given the athleticism Ruzhentsev possesses there’s no reason he shouldn’t be a plus defender in his time in Gainesville.
I had the chance to catch up with him right after a weekend where he dominated some top-quality teams in the Lighthouse Classic, punctuated by 31 points on 12-19 shooting against an elite Orangeville Prep team. He’s a top scorer on a Hamilton Heights team from Chattanooga that’s a top 20 high school team and it’s looking like he’s going to finish his senior year of high school with a bang.
EF: Thanks so much for doing this Samson! Can you start by telling everyone where you’re from and where you play basketball?
SR: Oh yeah, originally I’m from Russia but I moved to Tennessee 3 years ago and currently play at Hamilton Heights Christian Academy.
EF: When did you start playing basketball and what was your journey like that took you to Hamilton Heights, a powerhouse high school program?
SR: I started playing at 11 and wasn’t taking it seriously until my freshman year, and then when I started taking it seriously some people helped me to move to America, they found Hamilton Heights using just a 2 minute highlight video of me.
EF: That’s amazing. What is the basketball scene like in Russia right now?
SR: Umm…It’s pretty good, I mean this summer I played on the national team and we got 6th place in Europe which is not bad, the only problem is that I think it’s very hard to play on the high level there. Like most of the guys just get cut after they can’t play in the youth level anymore and got to go pro, and they just don’t get a chance.
EF: Well I’m glad you made it to Hamilton Heights which is such a good basketball program. Can you tell me what it’s like playing there, and what can you tell me about your former (and future) teammate Jason Jitoboh?
SR: Yeah I mean Hamilton Heights is a great program, they give kids lifetime opportunities like they gave me. Great people, and they always push you to be at your best. Same story with Jason, our head coach literally said that when he got there he would never think he would play D1, and now he’s at Florida. I’m excited to join Jason, we were pretty close last year.
EF: Your recruitment really ramped up in the last year that led to some amazing offers, like Florida. How did your game grow over that year?
SR: It grew a lot, actually I came with a different mentality and just worked hard, also got more opportunities on the court so I got way better.
EF: You are a long wing who can shoot, a premium in modern basketball. Why do you think players like you are so important?
SR: I think that there’s just not a lot of players like that, 6’8” athletic wings that can shoot and I feel like I can do a little bit of everything so that’s something you want on your team.
EF: There are going to be minutes available at the wing next year at Florida. What do you think you do well enough already to be a contributor with the Gators and what will you be trying to improve on this year to be ready?
SR: I think I can definitely bring energy and shooting next year, and right now I’m really trying to improve my playmaking ability.
EF: What are you like off the court? What are your hobbies outside of basketball?
SR: Umm, I think I’m a good guy, I mean (laughs) I always hear it from my coaches. I have a high GPA, too. What about hobbies here in Hamilton Heights… I don’t really have time for anything but school and basketball.
EF: (laughs) I’m sure you’ll be a fan favorite at Florida. When did Florida first get in touch with you and what did they have to say? What ultimately made you choose Florida?
SR: First time was when the whole coaching staff came in our gym, we had an open gym and they really liked me so they came back later and offered me on that day. It was a hard choice for me, I had multiple great options but when I went on the visit I just felt like that’s the place I want to be at.
EF: Well we are very glad that you’re a Gator! I really appreciate the time. One last question: are you more likely to win a dunk contest or a three-point contest?
SR: A dunk contest, I don’t like three-point contests (laughs) I just like to shoot in the game.
EF: (laughs) Good stuff. Thanks so much man I really appreciate the time. Gator fans will be pumped to hear from you!
SR: Yeah me too man! Thank you!
You can follow Samson on twitter at @thesame_sam27.