RICHMOND – Sam Kaufman draws inspiration from any number of former or current basketball players with whom he has crossed paths.
First, there is his father, Tom, a former player at NCAA Division I Northeastern University. There also is East Troy, Wis. coach Darryl Rayfield and his son Rion, who plays professional basketball in Denmark. And there are several of the other top local players who work out at Hard 2 Guard in Spring Grove with Kaufman.
Kaufman looks at successes of those he knows and strives someday to get there himself.
“I’ve always been inspired because of my dad, and Darryl and Rion Rayfield,” said Kaufman, a 6-foot-4 junior forward for Richmond-Burton. “I get inspired by that kind of stuff. I hope to get to that point.”
To hear Kaufman’s coaches speak about him, his type of insatiable desire and willingness to work are difficult to equal. Kaufman has been a driving force for R-B, which at 10-3 is the area’s second-winningest team (behind 11-2 Crystal Lake South).
“Not everybody’s willing to face things they don’t do very well,” R-B coach Brandon Creason said. “This past summer, Sam got better at what he wasn’t good at. His shot has come so far. There’s no magic trick as to why he’s playing so well.”
Kaufman, who averages 14.8 points a game, can get to the rim, but has become more of a 3-point threat this season. Creason doesn’t use the “couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat” line anymore like he did when Kaufman was a freshman.
“With Sam, he has that never-satisfied attitude,” said Steve Preston, who trains players at Hard 2 Guard, which operates in the Your World Fitness building. “He has a tireless work ethic and a dedication for development. The things he can do and the comfort level he has now are huge assets for Richmond moving forward.
"The younger kids coming up – Joey St. Pierre, Sam’s little brother Jake, Blaine Bayer (all freshmen on R-B’s varsity) – those guys come to our place and Sam’s setting the tone. They’re getting in the gym and individually working on their games."
Kaufman started for the Rockets last season and had a good AAU season with Fundamental U, where he played with Cary-Grove junior guard Jason Gregoire, who also works out with Kaufman at Hard 2 Guard.
“My jumpshot, ballhandling, I’m a lot stronger and more athletic,” said Kaufman, citing where he felt he had improved. “I put in a lot of work over the summer and improved my game all-around, not in just one area.”
Senior guard Brian Wells said Kaufman just adds more toughness to a bunch that already plays hard.
“He’s definitely matured more, that comes with just getting older,” Wells said. “He makes some good decisions. He also is very talented, his skills have improved, he’s gotten taller and stronger and his 3-point shooting is better. He’s very passionate about the game.”
Creason has been contacted by mainly NCAA D-III schools at this point about Kaufman, although his size and proficiency from the outside could draw more interest later this year. Both Creason and Preston agree this will be a big summer for Kaufman in terms of colleges.
“I don’t like to talk about the AAU season during the high school season because the commitment now should be with Richmond,” Preston said. “We’ve had the conversation and he understands he’s going to have to work on issues he had last year in AAU. He’s going to be very well-prepared.”
Because working on things is what makes Kaufman go.
“He has to improve on some things. We’ve talked to him about getting his shot off quicker and things like that,” Creason said. “ I can tell you one thing about Sam, if you tell him to work hard on something, he will. Athletically, anybody who recruits him is going to be happy. He’s going to put the time in.”