June 29, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
Before Robert Sampson transferred from East Carolina University to Georgia Tech for basketball and bookwork reasons, he talked about the idea with his mother at father.
Mom, Aleize, lives in north metro Atlanta, where Robert attended Northview High as a freshman and a sophomore. Naturally, she was involved. For basketball reasons, his father is quite the sounding board. Ralph Sampson was one of just two players to be named the Naismith college player of the year three times (Bill Walton was the other).
Ralph, now an assistant with the NBA’s Suns, was one of the most dominant centers the college game has ever seen. At 7-feet-4, he was tremendous around the basket while at Virginia from 1979-’83, yet he was truly special because of his other abilities. Ralph could put the ball on the floor, pass and shoot at a far greater level than other bigs.
“I have a lot of contact with my dad,” Robert said. “He calls to check up on me.”
In three seasons playing for the Pirates, Sampson became quite the power forward. As a junior, he averaged 9.1 points and 9.2 rebounds with 60 blocks to rank fifth in ECU history with 97 career blocks.
At 6-8, however, he’s not likely to ever match his father’s height yet he’d like to more approximate the versatility in his father’s game.
Robert’s pro prospects as a power forward would be considered slim as he’s undersized. If he stayed at ECU, that’s the position he was likely to play the most.
Body-wise, Sampson looks more like a small forward. Yet he hasn’t spent as enough time facing the basket to develop that skill set for professional play. He’ll have more than a year to work on those skills, as he must sit out a season per NCAA rules before he can play for the Yellow Jackets in the 2014-’15 season.
Tech’s Daniel Miller and Kam Holsey will have left the program by then, and Sampson probably will work in the post some, but his goal is to develop as a face-the-basket player.
“Yeah, it is,” he said. “Toward the end of the season I talked it over with my family, and they said if I wanted to transfer they were 100 percent behind me. The ultimate goal was I guess I wanted to progress a little more.”
When word got out that Sampson was looking to transfer, Tech coach Brian Gregory was soon interested.
“He contacted me,” Robert said. “He talked to my mom and dad and told them he was very interested in recruiting me.”
After considering several schools, Robert narrowed his choices to Tech and Southern California. In the end, choosing Tech became easy. His mother and a younger sister live in John’s Creek. Older brother Ralph III – who played at Minnesota and is coming off a season in the NBA’s D-League – lives in Atlanta in his offseason.
“This felt like more of a fit for me,” Robert said. “I like it here, and it’s my hometown. I’m a slasher type, a rebounder. I like to shoot 3’s. I’m trying to work on handling the ball a little more. Hopefully, I’ll get there in the next year.”
Sampson, who split his junior season between Northview High and the Henderson International School in Las Vegas before attending the Bullis School in Potomac, Md., has taken an unconventional path. Not often do student-athletes transfer to play just one season at a school, although it wasn’t long ago that guard Matt Causey did it for Tech when he moved from North Georgia to play for the Jackets in ‘-07-’08.
Sitting out for an entire season might not qualify as fun, but Sampson is not complaining about it. That’s more time to spend not only working on the transition from one school to another (he’s a business marketing major), but transitioning skill sets.
“I think it is a blessing,” Robert said. “God always has something in store for you, even if it takes longer to get somewhere.”