Finding Faith

Some say life is a game of chance. For Josh “Scotty” Samarco ’10, uprooting his whole life and coming to Pikeville, a place he’d never even heard of, was a chance worth taking.

The 6’1” shooting guard made quite a name for himself on the basketball court, becoming an NAIA All American and scoring a record 41 points in a single game against rival Georgetown College. But Samarco’s time in Pikeville transformed him into more than a hall of fame basketball star, he became a faithful servant of God.

“Living in Pikeville helped me see there was more to life than basketball,” said Samarco. “It was a tool for allowing me to meet people and get an education, but I discovered I had a purpose in life, so much bigger than basketball.”

From the time he could walk, Samarco’s dad put a basketball in his hands. Lucky for him, his neighborhood, just outside Detroit, had a basketball park where he could sharpen his skills.

Belleville High School in Ypsilanti, Mich., was known for turning out talented players. By the time he graduated, Samarco had ranked top five in the state for shooting. He had been recruited to play division 1 basketball for the University of Detroit, but team restructuring in his sophomore year of college would leave him without a position. He scrambled to find a new plan.

“I started researching colleges where I could still play ball and not lose a year of eligibility my junior year,” said Samarco. “It came down to UPIKE (then Pikeville College) and Georgetown.”

In August of 2008, UPIKE Athletic Director and Head Basketball Coach Kelly Wells made the journey to visit with Samarco and his family to discuss a full athletic scholarship and his future as a UPIKE Bear.

“When we set out to Ypsilanti, I had no idea what was in store for Scotty, as well as all of us. What I found was a young man hungry to prove that he belonged, with a passion to excel and overcome the odds,” said Wells. “We sat in his living room with him and his family. We were not leaving Ypsi until we secured his commitment, and we did!!”

Leaving the city for rural life in the mountains was not a smooth transition for Samarco. He was frustrated after leaving Detroit and felt like he had something to prove. On the tough days, he always turned to something consistent and familiar, basketball.

“Being completely on my own made me realize I had to grow up quickly. I had to adapt from being a teenager to a young adult. I dealt with anxiety and panic attacks from not feeling secure after being uprooted from everything I knew and loved,” Samarco explained. “Basketball was an outlet for me, and practice was the highlight of my day. I felt secure playing basketball, and at game time I could focus on what I loved and be myself.”

“Scotty was somewhat angry and carried a chip on his shoulder at first. You could always tell he had a wonderful heart, but was guarded to let many in. Thankfully he let us help him find his way,” Wells explained. “Scotty fell in love with the success he was having on the court, which bloomed his overall confidence. He began to love school and his teachers and the process.” 

It was during this time, with fewer distractions from city life, that he figured out who he was and his relationship with God. However, that faith was tested when a reinjury in practice right before Christmas break resulted in torn ligaments in his ankle, ending his basketball career his senior year. He was upset with God and unsure of his future.

With graduation on the horizon, Coach Wells encouraged him to take a position as an admissions counselor. He believed it would help grow his mentorship and leadership skills with ministries.

Samarco graduated in Spring of 2010 with his bachelor’s degree in English. In addition to the influence and guidance of Coach Wells, professor Hannah Freeman, Ph.D., helped shape his writing style and deepen his appreciation for literature.

“I was blown away by Professor Freeman’s knowledge of writing and history,” Samarco said. “She was kind, always open to help, and was a major influence on my writing and encouraged me to finish my degree.”

Samarco ended up back in Michigan after a year working in Pikeville, still trying to make a career of basketball playing semi-pro. A chance encounter with Pastor Brian Bennett of the Overflow Church in Benton Harbor, Mich., set his life on a new path of service.

“I was reading to kids who were falling behind at a church after school program. Pastor Bennett invited me to lunch, heard my story and offered me an internship to mentor young adults.” Samarco said. “That was the beginning of eight years of serving God and helping others.”

Six years ago, the now 32-year-old married his college sweetheart, who stayed behind in Detroit while he pursued his passion in Pikeville. He went on to complete his master’s degree in ministerial leadership at Wesley Seminary in Marion, Ind., and he is currently pursuing a second master’s degree in practical theology.

Living in South Carolina, both he and his wife, Jasmine, serve at the Transformation Church. Samarco’s role overseeing family ministries helps other leaders discover their identity, passion and purpose and who God has called them to be in life. He uses his own experiences to relate to youth and to teach them to trust God with their problems.

When reflecting on his time in Pikeville, Samarco always remembers the beauty of the campus in the mountains on those early mornings.

“Waking up and seeing the mountains in the background with the sun coming up and peeking through and then walking up the hill on my way to class with the clouds sitting low to the ground is something I will never forget,” Samarco said.

In October of 2019, Samarco was honored at the UPIKE Athletic Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. He describes this as the icing on the cake of his basketball career.

“He finished his years as a Hall of Fame player, but also a Hall of Fame person! He is now a living trophy of mine as he has entered the ministry, started mentoring programs,” said Coach Wells. “I am so proud of the man and husband he has become.”