By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — It’s something of a mystery that Ralph Sampson, given his extraordinary résumé, was not part of one of the first five classes inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City, Mo.
But the former UVa great is part of the sixth class, which was announced Monday, and Sampson expressed his gratitude during a teleconference with reporters.
“It’s something I’ll cherish the rest of my life,” he said. “My children will cherish it as well.”
The news also delighted those who were with Sampson during his illustrious college career. He will the first player from UVa to be inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame.
“Very happy for Ralph, as he definitely has earned the recognition,” Terry Holland wrote in an e-mail.
Now the athletics director at East Carolina, Holland coached Sampson at UVa, where the 7-4 center from Harrisonburg High thrice received the Naismith Award as the nation’s top player.
Moreover, Holland noted, the “fact that Ralph received his degree on time AND turned down opportunities to declare for the NBA draft, even though he was guaranteed to be the No. 1 pick all three years, says a great deal about his priorities.
“Ralph was one of the most unselfish players and individuals that I have ever been around. At times, he was almost too unselfish on the court. He was always encouraging other players to take the open shot when the defender assigned to that player doubled up on Ralph. In spite of all the pressure and expectations, Ralph truly enjoyed college basketball, and it showed and allowed all of us around him to enjoy his years with us as well.”
Only one other player, UCLA center Bill Walton, has won the Naismith Award three times.
Sampson, a four-time All-American, finished his UVa career with 2,228 points, 1,511 rebounds, 899 field goals and 426 blocked shots. He remains the Cavaliers’ career leader in rebounds, field goals and blocks. He’s fourth in career scoring at his alma mater.
During Sampson’s four seasons, Virginia went 112-23 and made three appearances in the NCAA tournament, with one trip to the Final Four (in 1981). The Wahoos won the NIT when Sampson was a freshman.
Holland’s assistants during Sampson’s first three seasons included Craig Littlepage, now UVa’s AD.
“We were the team that had the target on our backs,” Littlepage recalled Monday afternoon. “We were going to get everyone’s best shot. Year one was a little bit of a struggle before we ended the year winning in the NIT. The next two seasons were a series of highlights in that we played some of the memorable college basketball games during the era. We were in the Ohio State Super Bowl Sunday game when Ralph scored 40-some points. We had two unbelievable come-from-behind wins against UNC when both our teams had been No. 1 in the country. Then there was the infamous slowdown game in the ACC tourney when UNC spread out the floor when we played zone defense.”
Sampson, whom the Houston Rockets selected No. 1 in the 1983 NBA draft, fondly recalled such UVa teammates as Jeff Lamp, Jim Miller, Terry Gates, Jeff Jones, Othell Wilson, Ricky Stokes and Craig Robinson.
“Just the mere fact of getting to know those guys, playing with those guys, going to battle with those guys, night in and night out,” Sampson said.
His most prized memory of that time, though, is “graduating at the University of Virginia in four years,” Sampson said. “Staying there and knowing the value of an education after the fact and being able to accomplish what I did at the collegiate level and moving on to the NBA. Walking across Thomas Jefferson’s Lawn on a rainy day and receiving my diploma at the University of Virginia is probably the most cherished moment that I will cherish for my life.”
Joining Sampson in the Class of 2011, which will be inducted Nov. 20 in Kansas City, are coaches Bob Knight and Eddie Sutton, players James Worthy, Cazzie Russell and Chris Mullin, and contributors Joe Vancisin and Eddie Einhorn.
“I’m ecstatic about my name even being recognized with those people,” Sampson said.
Knee injuries marred and shortened his professional career, but Sampson was the NBA rookie of the year in 1983-84 and played in three NBA All-Star games. He’s one of 12 finalists this year for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
That hall of fame’s Class of 2011 will be announced April 4, and Holland, like many others, believes Sampson deserves to be in Springfield.
“Very few NBA players have had such high expectations and were able to live up to those expectations so successfully in their first three years,” Holland previously wrote in support of Sampson’s candidacy.
“At one time, a huge percentage of the members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield earned their admission based mainly on what they did as American college basketball players or coaches (or both). Today, an increasing percentage of the annual Springfield inductions will recognize those who participated in basketball at the international level as well as those from a greatly expanded NBA who had long, successful professional careers, with or without a successful college career. Therefore, while you and I can point to dozens of previous inductees in Springfield who do not have the credentials of a Ralph Sampson (or a Lefty Driesell), the truth of the matter is that those previous inductees would not have much of a chance to be enshrined in Springfield under today’s standards.
“It would be a shame if Ralph’s untimely injury keeps him out of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in spite of his unprecedented achievements as a high school, college and professional basketball player.”