#TGW: Flying Under The Radar

June 18, 2014

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

He’s a big fella so it’s kind of a weird concept we’re proposing, but Robert Sampson has been lost in recent shuffling.

Translation is required.

With all the chatter about incoming transfers to (and from) the Georgia Tech men’s basketball program, the rising senior forward has cemented — at least for the time being — the role of forgotten man.

The son of Hall of Famer Ralph made his move last year. Upon transferring from East Carolina University, he sat out (redshirted) the NCAA’s requisite season in 2013-14, which kind of drove the 6-foot-8, (then) 215-pound young man nuts.

Coming off by far his best season with the Pirates – he averaged 9.1 points and 9.2 rebounds, and led ECU in rebounding 19 times in 33 starts while grabbing double-digit boards 12 times – the former Northview High star was ready to show the world a little something.

He had to wait; the NCAA spoketh.

Unlike some of Tech’s incoming transfers, who cannot be written about here because they have not yet signed scholarship papers and/or enrolled, Sampson did not receive – or apply for – an NCAA waiver to play immediately.

 So, he suffered, “A little bit. There were times I wanted to be in the game, and help the team in any way I could. It was hard, definitely.

“UNC, Duke, all the big games when the crowd is more into it. Those are the games that I really love.  I feed off the fans’ emotions so that was really tough.”

Occasionally last winter, Sampson was the top shot blocker in Tech’s practices. He out-blocked center Daniel Miller more than now and then.

Tech fans ought to be excited about that, although if you ask the son of Ralph the Yellow Jackets are more likely to be defined next season by their versatility.

There will be no Miller-esque monolith in the middle to dissuade rim assaults, nor trigger the offense from the inside to the out.

Yet the Jackets figure to have more players capable of blocking shots, perhaps frequently from the weak side and in help defense situations, and more players capable of shooting from more spots on the court.

Sampson fancies himself high on that list of providers.

He has been grinding away to grow his game.

Although he made 44.4 percent of his 3-point shots for the Pirates as a sophomore (24-for-44), he set a precedent of sorts in his junior season for departed Tech transfer Robert Carter by taking more long shots than were wise.

After connecting on 21.7 percent of his treys in his final season at ECU (15-for-69), there was a decision: get better at the long ball, or drop it.

Sampson chose part of the first option and none of the second.

He has worked on his stroke, but not with the idea that it will be the keystone to his game.

There have been weights to lift, and Tech strength and conditioning coach Mike Bewley and Ralph Sampson – the Sampson – have seen to that.

He’s not about to become Hulk-ish, but Robert’s gone more Big Bob.

“I see myself as a stretch [power forward],” he said, pulling an emerging label from within his sport. “I can do a lot of things: post-ups, dribble-drives . . . if [a defender] is shorter than me, I’m going to post him up. If they’re bigger than me, I’m going to dribble-drive.

“My shot is coming back around, and my ball handling is getting a little tighter every day. I’ve put on 10 pounds. It’s a really good program.”

Sampson looks a good bit like his father, who figures to be at many Tech games after leaving his job with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns to tend to his ailing father in Virginia.

Robert is not, however, that player. He’s not 7-4, like Dad. And the game is very different, with so very few prototypical “bigs.”

Yet Dad may well be shaping his youngest boy still.

While Robert won’t exactly verify a story flittering around The Flats, he apparently ramped up his work in the weight room and on the court last winter after Dear Ol’ Dad stopped by, checked in with his boy and coaches, and registered a thought or two.

Somewhat suddenly, after the former University of Virginia All American and NBA star came sniffing around, the younger Sampson became more, um, motivated.

“There is maybe a little bit of truth to that,” he says. “I think it was really more of me realizing that my time is coming up fast, faster than I thought. It’s my last year, and I needed to put more work ethic into it.

“He has an influence in my life so when he comes around I like to show off . . . it was me putting in the back of my mind that you only have so much time before you play again. We talk every day, pretty much.”

Ralph II is spending much of his time in Virginia, tending to Robert’s ailing grandfather.

When Dad is in his adopted hometown of Atlanta, “I see him pretty much every other day,” Robert said.

Robert and his brother, former University of Minnesota standout Ralph III (who is back from a stint playing pro ball in Finland) get after each other on weekends.

Usually, they tear into it in Duluth at Northview, where Robert played as a freshman, sophomore and half a junior season before finishing his prep career at Henderson International (Nev.) and Bullis School (Md.).

On occasions where he attends, Dad can’t keep up or keep quiet.

“He’s pretty much in sweats and not moving around much. He can’t really move as well as he used to; his knees,” Robert said. “But he likes to get after it, likes to work with us. We play HORSE. Pretty much it’s always me [who wins].”

At a later point, we’ll delve into the prospect of a young man playing in the “shadow” of a father who was one of the greatest players in college basketball history, although Ralph played long enough ago that comparisons are silly after a third of a century.

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