THIS DAY IN SPORTS: An earlier dominant 7-4 force in college hoops

Presented by POOL SCOUTS.

This Day In Sports…April 2, 1983:

Three weeks after leading Virginia through the first-ever NCAA Tournament bracket in Boise, 7-4 center Ralph Sampson wins the Adolph Rupp Award as college basketball’s Player Of The Year. Sampson was the first one to win the honor three years in a row.  (No one has won it back-to-back since, but Purdue’s Zach Edey may break that spell soon.) Later that spring he would be the first pick in the NBA Draft, going to the Houston Rockets. The Cavaliers, by the way, made it into the Elite Eight that year before falling by a point to eventual national champion North Carolina State.

Before we profile Sampson, here’s a thumbnail of the NCAA Tournament’s first-ever visit to Boise. It was a big, big deal in a different era in the city. The then-BSU Pavilion was in its first year, and it sold out quickly. Back then there were 52 teams in the field, so two teams, UCLA and Virginia, received first-round byes. Washington State beat Weber State and Utah topped Illinois for the right to meet the Bruins and the Cavaliers. The Cougars gave No. 1 seed Virginia all it wanted before falling 54-49, and the Utes upset second-seeded UCLA 67-61, a harbinger of the great games to come over the years at the Boise site.

Sampson led Virginia with 15 points against Washington State, but the Cougs doggedly defended him, and he was able to put up only eight field goal attempts. Sampson averaged 12.5 attempts as a senior and put up 19.1 points per game. He would go on to be named NBA Rookie of the Year in 1984 with the Rockets and averaged 20.7 points and 10.9 rebounds over his first three seasons with Houston. 

The Rockets selected 7-footer Hakeem Olajuwon out of the University of Houston as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft, creating a formidable duo in the post. Olajuwon and Sampson became the “Twin Towers,” with Sampson moving to power forward. It worked for a while—the Rockets advanced to the 1986 NBA Finals, falling in six games to the Boston Celtics. But as often happens with big men, injuries began to take their toll on Sampson in the late 1980s.  

Beset by a bad left knee, Sampson was traded to the Golden State Warriors early in the 1987-88 season. He was largely ineffective for the Warriors and was dealt to the Sacramento Kings two years later. Two tough seasons with the Kings followed. Sampson wrapped up his NBA career with the Washington Bullets in 1991-92.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)


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