Sources with second-hand information told Sports Headliners last week that Ralph Sampson III was declaring for the NBA draft. Thursday’s early entry list from the NBA confirmed his intent.
But neither Sampson, his family nor the Gophers have made it known whether a professional sports agent has been retained. If so, Sampson can’t return to Minnesota for his senior season. Players who don’t have representation have until May 8 to change their minds about entering the draft and return to college teams.
Sampson’s three year career has been characterized by inconsistency and mediocrity. The 6-11 junior center-forward has averaged 8.2 points and 5.2 rebounds. His best career season scoring was 2011 when he averaged 10.2 points per game while his top rebounding average was a year ago when he finished at 5.8.
News of his sniffing at the pros has been met by surprise and even cynicism by Gophers fans. A finesse big man with not even honorable mention all-Big Ten honors during his career, Sampson seems an improbable candidate to be chosen even on the second round of the June NBA draft.
Yes, the NBA is always looking for length and athleticism, and it doesn’t hurt that his bloodlines include dad Ralph II, among the most famous college centers of all time. But Ralph III is a classic example of a tall player that could benefit from one additional season of college basketball, adding more muscle, plus strength and versatility for his game.
What fans should be asking is why this development? If Sampson has hired an agent then he knows there’s no return to Gopherville. That means facing the real possibility of not making an NBA team next fall either through the draft or as a free agent. Even if he were drafted on the second round or signed as a free agent, neither designation guarantees him a roster spot next fall in the NBA.
In this scenario what Sampson has to be prepared for is a future later this year playing in the NBA Development League, in Europe, or some other professional league. Sampson may feel those options are better for his career than another season at Minnesota.
If Sampson returns to the Gophers he faces less competition for playing time than it appeared a few weeks ago. Center Colton Iverson, who for three years shared playing time with Sampson, has transferred. During the last 12 months or so the Gophers have lost three players who were juniors but chose not to return for their senior seasons. Paul Carter transferred last spring, then Devoe Joseph and Iverson this year.
Gophers fans are hoping Sampson doesn’t become No. 4.