March 3, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
As swan songs go, it’s probably somehow fitting that Robert Sampson’s final college home game Tuesday night will come with North Carolina and a bigger-than-usual crowd likely in McCamish Pavilion.
Georgia Tech’s fifth-year senior, who played three seasons for East Carolina before transferring to finish up with the Yellow Jackets, says it’ll be no big deal but the longer he talks, the more you can tell he’s been thinking about the coming end of the college portion of his basketball career.
“I’m not really focused on it, but it’s creeping up,” Sampson said. “I’ve been talking with my dad and my mom, and they’ve been saying, ‘Enjoy college now while you’re in it because it goes by quick.’
“I look back now, and it has gone by fast. I remember my freshman year like it was yesterday and now I’m a fifth-year senior and just happy to be here.”
In spending nearly two years at Tech, the first sitting out of competition as a redshirt, Sampson’s been reminded that hard work is part of life. He’s on track to graduate in May with a degree in business (marketing), yet is likely to continue to take up the struggle before diving into the business world.
Basketball runs in the family, you might say, and he wants to keep running in basketball, at least for a while longer.
The 6-foot-8, 224-pound forward is the second college basketball playing son of Ralph and Aleize following Minnesota’s Ralph III by a couple years.
“I’m going to definitely push a little basketball and see where it takes me,” he explained. “When I retire or my legs give out, I’ll look forward into the business world.”
For now, Sampson’s bringing value on the hard wood.
He’s started the past 11 games, all in ACC action, and while he’s fifth in minutes played among the Jackets (21.5 per game) in conference games, he leads Tech in rebounding (6.5), is second with 12 blocks, and sixth in scoring (5.1).
After grabbing a season-high 13 rebounds in Saturday’s loss at Clemson, he’s averaged 8.2 rebounds over the past five contests.
There’s a little something different about Sampson’s game.
He has a little bit of a shooter in him, although he’s tried fewer than two 3-pointers per game (making 22.9 percent overall).
More memorably, he threw down an extremely athletic dunk vs. Vanderbilt, and others of recent note. Head coach Brian Gregory often refers to the spidery one as an, “out of range rebounder,” and that seems to fit Sampson. He’s not one to post up too often, nor win on the boards by boxing out.
He tends to come from out of range to snatch rebounds like a fly trap would flies.
“I think he’s going to be able to play after he’s done here,” Gregory said. “And really, down the road he’s going to have great value in a degree from Tech. When he’s played really well, it makes us a different team.”
Sampson logged a big day on Jan. 17, when he went for 16 points, eight rebounds with two blocked shots at Pitt. He made 2-of-3 3-pointers that day with more range than his father flashed in a Hall of Fame career at the University of Virginia and in the NBA.
Robert and the Jackets have endured their share of struggles in a tough seen replete with narrow losses. Powering through adversity will be one of his greatest takeaways from Tech.
“Just keep fighting. Something’s going to happen sooner or later. Try your best at everything you do. My parents taught me that as well,” he explained. “My mom and dad have always said to go after it, and sometimes the ending is not what you think it is going to be.