This article is part of a running series The Daily’s Sports staff will be publishing on seniors.
Redshirt junior Sam Beskind is a six-foot-four guard from Tucson, Ariz. After joining the Stanford men’s basketball program as a walk-on, Beskind was awarded a scholarship before his second year on the Farm. He has been instrumental to the team’s chemistry and camaraderie, and is considered by many to be the embodiment of a Stanford student-athlete. Throughout his time as a Cardinal athlete, Beskind has garnered two Pac-12 Winter Academic Honor Roll awards (2020, 2021), as well the NABC Honors Court award. In this upcoming season, Beskind hopes to make his contributions felt on the court when the team looks to make an appearance in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014.
The Daily’s Zach Zafran spoke with Beskind about his time at Stanford, his basketball journey and the principles he lives by as he looks forward to the Cardinal’s upcoming season and prepares for success after graduation.
The Stanford Daily [TSD]: I was excited because [The Stanford Daily] does these things called Senior Spotlights, where we take a senior on the athletic team and allow them to share their story. Someone told me I should check out Sam Beskind; they told me, “He’s got an incredible story.” So I went ahead and researched you, and, needless to say, you do have an incredible story. I know you’re a redshirt junior, according to the Stanford men’s basketball roster, and it’s a senior spotlight, but I got the go-ahead to go with you. So, I’ll just ask you: what do you consider yourself?
Sam Beskind [SB]: I’m a senior academically. This is my fourth year, which is crazy how fast it goes. But I’m a junior athletically because I redshirted my freshman year, and I’m actually doing a master’s program right now, so I already finished my undergrad. I kind of just wear all the hats and go with whatever is most beneficial to me at the time. If I need to say it, I say, “Yeah, I still got tons of eligibility left.” Otherwise, if I’m talking to a professor and need to act big time, I’ll say, “Yeah, I’m doing a master’s program.”
TSD: How did you get into basketball? And what has your basketball journey looked like since then?
Sam Beskind SB: I got into hoops when I was four years old, so I’ve been playing for my whole life. I got into it at the Jewish Community Center in Tucson, Arizona. I was a pretty rambunctious toddler, and I think my parents were mostly sick of me causing them trouble. I think it was a six-and-over league, and I was only four, and somehow they squeezed me in. So my very first season I just ran up and down the floor, and I don’t even think I touched the ball. I didn’t score at all. But that’s how I got into hoops, and the journey’s been crazy since then — lots of AAU days, lots of early mornings working out with one of my best friends from home, Carson James. High school basketball was incredible, and it all led up to this moment here at Stanford, which has been quite a journey in and of itself. Not something I can squeeze into a quick question, but it’s been nothing short of amazing. Lots of ups and downs — that’s one thing for sure. Lots of uncertainty at times, and lots of hard days, but lots of smiles as well.
TSD: Like you said, lots of ups and downs — but I know some of the ups were in high school. You were Southern Arizona Player of the Year, and you were a finalist for Arizona State Player of the Year. You had chances to play at other schools but you ended up at Stanford. What led you here, and why’d you choose Stanford?
SB: It was a really lucky situation, honestly. In high school, even though I was a decent player in Arizona, I was not a Stanford-caliber player. I always played hard and had a really strong, competitive will. One of our current coaches, Coach Pruitt, was recruiting a different player on a team we were playing, and I happened to have a good game. Since I was a decent student and Stanford had been my dream school since sixth grade — it was my goal to play college basketball at Stanford — once I had that opportunity, I was like, it’s a no-brainer. I’ve always been a dream chaser, so I figured the worst thing that can happen is I leave if I can’t make it happen. But I had to give it a chance.
TSD: You gave it a chance, you’ve come a long way, and you have a great story of earning a scholarship after being a walk-on. I know you went on to write an essay, “How to be a Walk-on.” What was it like earning a scholarship?
SB: That was such an incredible experience. I’m really grateful for our coaches. We were in Italy at the time, and it was so cool to have that experience. My best friend on the team, Isaac White — he’s now back in Australia playing professionally — he’s the one who shared the news with me that I was getting a scholarship. That was really an incredible moment. My freshman year was super challenging. I had a decent high school career, and then I came to Stanford and was so far behind everyone else. Everyone else here was so talented, so it was just a shock to the system. I knew that I was going to work hard, but that was also part of the challenge. When you’re putting that much in and still really struggling, it’s really difficult. For a tangible example, I don’t think I made a jump shot in live competition during our first five months of practice. When we’re practicing six days a week, that’s over 100 practices not making a single shot. A lot of times, I would just be trying to find a single thing I did right. I think that I started to find the groove a little bit toward the end of my freshman year. Just staying consistent was the biggest thing, and not getting deterred. To have that work ethic rewarded with a scholarship was incredible.
TSD: What has the experience being on the team been like?
SB: It’s been nothing short of amazing. It’s still been a challenge — I wouldn’t say I’ve fulfilled my dream yet. The goal is still to be someone who really contributes on the floor. So I’m working as hard as ever to make that happen. I think that the coolest thing about being a part of the basketball program here, though, is just the people. I think my teammates are super special people, and the coaches really set the bar in Division I. It’s pretty impressive how much they give to us. They’re really servant leaders. Coach Haase is as good as it gets. It’s rare to find someone who’s as good of a leader, as good of a coach and as good of a person as he is. So that’s made it a lot more enjoyable. Our biggest goal is to make March Madness and go dancing this year. That would be the perfect culmination for a senior year — but we’ve got a long way to go, and I’m just trying to work toward it each day.
TSD: You say the four principles you live by are resilience, integrity, significance and kindness. Why those four, and how’d you come up with them?
SB: Resilience is in my story a little bit. I think that a lot of times, the people who ultimately end up being successful aren’t necessarily the most talented or the smartest or whatever it may be, but just the people who don’t give up. That’s just something that has been the backbone of what I’m about.
Integrity — I think that’s just a family value. It’s something I try to practice every day, whether it’s with the Honor Code and taking that sort of stuff seriously, or treating people well, being truthful and honest or being a good person. There’s nothing more important than that.
Significance — that’s more of a forward-looking thing. I want to be able to have an impact on those around me and find meaning in what I’m doing, whether it’s on the court or long-term. I’ve dreamed of a career in civil service or in the government, and I think that doing something that means something is important to me.
And then kindness is something that you can sort of lose sight of, but is really the most important thing. I was up in our basketball office just yesterday, and Coach Ehsan — he’s one of our new assistant coaches, phenomenal dude — and his son were up there. His son’s probably in first or second grade. I was asking him what he learned in school today, and he sat there for a second, and he said, “We’re learning about kindness.” I was like, “That’s epic.” We need to do more of that at Stanford. You never know what people are going through, and I think that if you can have a positive impact on someone, even in the smallest way, each day that’s really valuable.
TSD: There’s plenty to look back on, but before you go, you still have another season remaining. What is the team looking like this year, and how do you expect the season to unfold?
SB: It’s really exciting. A lot of new faces, so guys will be stepping into new roles. Our team chemistry and camaraderie is off the charts. I think that we have a lot of potential. We’re practicing with a high sense of urgency, really trying to get better every day. Our goal this year is to be awesome and not just win games, but do it in a manner that shows, “Those guys care about each other, and they weren’t deterred if a team went on a run,” or whatever it is. That’s really our goal. And like I said earlier on, we want to go dancing more than anything, so putting ourselves in a position to do that is the dream.
TSD: Off of the court, you mentioned you want to pursue a career in civil service. What are you looking forward to after graduation?
SB: I’m still trying to figure it out a little bit. I’m trying to take advantage of the people here at Stanford. That’s the one bit of advice I have. There are so many amazing people who want to help, so I’m trying to meet with people and get their advice. Down the line, like I said, I’m interested in government, so we’ll see where that ends up. Last summer I interned with Nike, which was a phenomenal experience, and I would love to go back there. I don’t know exactly what it’ll be or where I’ll end up, but I think as long as I’m guided by those principles that we talked about earlier and willing to take some risks, I think it’ll work out.
This transcript has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.