Sarah Sampson has been waiting a long time to make a couple of additions to the collection of her son’s trophy wall in her Harrisonburg home. As of Monday, half of her wait was over.
Ralph Sampson, the 7-foot-4 wonder who helped take University of Virginia basketball to new heights 30 years ago, was selected for induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. The four-time All-American and three-time National Player of the Year was among the collegiate hall’s eight-man class, along with players James Worthy, Cazzie Russell and Chris Mullin, coaches Bob Knight and Eddie Sutton and contributors Joe Vancisin and Eddie Einhorn.
Sampson is also among 12 finalists under consideration for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., with that class set to be announced on April 4.
“It is an honor and a privilege to be on the list of these inductees,” the former UVa star said moments after the collegiate hall’s list was announced Monday afternoon. “I know a lot of them very well. It’s an honor that I will cherish the rest of my life, and my children will cherish it as well.”
When the Harrisonburg phenom signed with Terry Holland’s program in 1979, the mobile giant immediately brought national attention to the Cavaliers. With Sampson’s help, Virginia won the 1980 National Invitation Tournament his freshman year, then proceeded to three straight NCAA tournaments, including the 1981 Final Four.
During his four-year career, the Cavaliers went 112-23 and rose to a No. 1 ranking in the two national wire service polls as UVa was ranked in the Associated Press Top 10 for 49 consecutive weeks.
A three-time All-ACC selection, Sampson scored 2,228 points and grabbed 1,511 rebounds, 899 field goals and blocked 462 shots, and he still is the UVa record-holder in the latter three categories.
Despite several attempts by NBA teams to lure him from college early, Sampson remained at Virginia and graduated in four years before being selected as the No. 1 draft pick in 1983 by the Houston Rockets. The UVa big man earned NBA Rookie of the Year honors, participated in three NBA All-Star games and was MVP of that event in 1985.
While he played nine seasons in the NBA (Houston, Golden State, Sacramento and Washington), his career was shortened by a knee injury.
“Ralph’s record as a player and as a student puts him in a very special category,” said Holland, now the director of athletics at East Carolina University. “He worked hard for his degree.”
While recalling his favorite memories from his time at Virginia, Sampson said Monday that his fondest was graduating in four years.
“Walking across Thomas Jefferson’s Lawn on a rainy day and receiving my diploma at the University of Virginia is the most cherished moment of my life,” Sampson said. “Also, the camaraderie with Terry Holland, Mrs. [Ann] Holland, Jim Miller and the guys I played with is the second-most cherished moment that I will carry the rest of my life.”
Sampson and former UCLA great Bill Walton are the only two players in major college history to win three straight national player of the year awards.
“We’re very excited for Ralph,” Holland said. “I didn’t think there was any chance they would overlook him, but you never know in this business.”
There was immense pressure on Holland and Virginia to land Sampson in a national recruiting battle against North Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia Tech.
“He was so close by and so good,” Holland said. “We spent a lot of time going back and forth over there [to Harrisonburg]. We felt the longer the recruiting process went, the better chance there was of him coming to Virginia because certainly the people in the area wanted to continue to see him play and maintain contact.”
When the Harrisonburg star announced he was choosing Virginia, the news set off wild celebrations all over Wahoo Nation. The Cavaliers coaching staff assembled at Holland’s home to listen to the prep star’s press conference live on the radio.
“We were obviously ecstatic,” Holland said.
Sampson said that spokesmen from the collegiate hall notified him of his selection a couple of days ago.
“You’re a little shocked that you’re considered for any award after playing the years I’ve played,” Sampson said. “I’m at a loss for words when you think about being inducted into any hall of fame. I hope that everybody that watched me play at the collegiate level, the NBA and in high school enjoys this. I thank everybody that nominated me or helped induct me.”
Sampson said when he receives his hall of fame award that it will go along with his college diploma and all his college player of the year awards at his mother’s house.
For Sarah Sampson, that’s one hall of fame award down and one more to go.