After much debate and drama it is official that Ralph Sampson III will return for his senior season as a Minnesota Golden Gopher.
From his perspective this seems like the obvious choice that will be best for him. Throughout the weekend and even this morning it appeared as though he was planning to take his chances in the NBA Draft. But that was a very curious decision that didn't receive a lot of positive feedback. This from Eamonn Brennan over at ESPN.
There's nothing wrong with Sampson III's game, per se. He's a big body, has a soft touch from inside 15 feet and, hey, the NBA needs centers. (There might be, what, five or six actual centers in the NBA game right now? See what I mean?) All that said, Sampson isn't there yet. To be frank, he isn't even in the vicinity of "there" yet. Unless something changes, he's a near lock to go undrafted in June. Why not build out your game for one more season in Minneapolis? Why force the issue now?
Brennan is right, why would you ever put your name into the draft when there is zero chance of being a first round pick and very little chance that you'll even be drafted? Maybe he saw an opportunity with a number of higher profile players returning to college and what is considered a weak draft pool, maybe his chances of being drafted are actually higher this year than they would be next. Who knows, but from a career development perspective this would have been a bad move. He made the right decision to return to college for another year.
Sampson is returning to team with Trevor Mbakwe to form one of the better interior tandems in the Big Ten. So far in his Gopher career Sampson has made 87 starts, scored 795 points, grabbed 500 rebounds and managed 166 blocks. He currently sits in 4th place on the all-time blocked shots list, just ahead of Monticello's Joel Przybilla. He even has an outside chance of passing Kevin McHale to be 1st all-time, needing 70 to take the lead (he had 63 this past season). He is 2/3 of the way to being only the 5th Gopher ever to record 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 150 blocks. He needs just 205 points to reach that plateau.
Overall I think Ralph has had a solid career in a Golden Gopher uniform. He incites a lot of passion within Gopher Nation largely because of Ralph's perceived lack of any passion on the floor. But his numbers are pretty good. He has a long ways to go if he wants to be in the conversation for one of the better centers in the Big Ten. But he is a solid center who at times was very valuable. At other times he has sorely been needed and didn't embrace the role of carrying his team when it was needed most. He is a soft, face-up center, with a decent jump shot who blocks shots and is an adequate rebounder. I believe much of the criticism surrounding Sampson is because people want him to be a tough, back-to-the-basket center. If you accept him for who he is then he is solid. Good, but far from great. Off the court he has never been a distraction and by all accounts is a good student.
So now we move forward. Next year's Gopher squad could be pretty good, especially in the paint. But in order to achieve some goals not yet reached in the Tubby Smith era (winning an NCAA Tournament game or contending for a Big Ten title) then some marked improvement from Sampson is an absolute must. We have a lot of questions on the perimeter so the more stability we have in the paint and the more reliable Sampson/Mbakwe can be as scorers and rebounders, the more pressure that can be alleviated from our guards.
This announcement may not be pleasing to some of you but in the long run I think this is the right decision for Sampson and the best scenario for the Gophers.