Thirty-plus years ago, Harrisonburg was the quintessential “sleepy college town.” The Nighthawks played the occasional gig at The Elbow Room, Gus grilled irresistible chili dogs at Jess’ Quick Lunch, and
This was not where you expected to fine an honest-to-goodness sports phenom. But there he was at Harrisonburg High, all 7-feet, 4 inches of him.
He brought basketball icons to Harrisonburg. He prompted at least one opponent to practice with brooms and turned games into spectacles.
Monday, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame announced that Sampson and 11 others comprise its 2012 induction class. The honor is long overdue.
Few players affected a game like Sampson, and not just because of his size. At Harrisonburg, the
Prior to Sampson,
That should end any debate about Sampson's credentials, his lack of a national or ACC championship notwithstanding.
But Naismith electors often focus on players’ NBA careers, and Sampson’s was derailed by knee injuries. That said, consider his first three professional seasons, all with the
He was the 1984 rookie of the year and MVP of the ’85
Sampson’s combined averages for those three seasons: 20.9 points and 10.7 rebounds. In his first three NBA seasons, future Hall of Famer
But while Duncan, an unheralded prospect from the Virgin Islands, was understated and nuanced on the court, Sampson was the show. Win or lose.
Demand to see him at Harrisonburg was such that the Blue Streaks played some games at JMU's Godwin Hall. Suffice to say, we basketball mavens on campus flocked.
One of Harrisonburg's area rivals — I believe it was Lee High of Staunton — prepared for Sampson by having the second string defend the first with raised brooms.
When college recruiting season arrived, Sampson actually took an official visit to JMU, which to this day must rank as the program's least-expensive entertainment bill. No air fare or hotel. But plenty of parties. I attended one or two, and when the Big Fella ducked through the doorway, jaws dropped.
Sampson chose Virginia over Kentucky,
In Sampson's sophomore season, Cavaliers coach Terry Holland was gracious enough to play the Dukes in Harrisonburg. The bandbox that is Godwin Hall was never louder, and Virginia was lucky to escape, 53-52, against a quality JMU team that upset Georgetown in the NCAA tournament.
But Sampson was less-than-ordinary for his homecoming, scoring 10 points, missing 5-of-6 free throws and committing seven turnovers. Such games were rare.
As a senior, Sampson schooled a
"He changed the whole game, the whole game," Bilas told me last year. "It was like playing against your dad in the driveway. You had no shot. I held him to 36 points and thought I did a pretty good job."
Enshrined last year in the College Basketball Hall of Fame, Sampson is the sixth ACC player elected to the more renowned Naismith Hall in Springfield, Mass. The others are North Carolina's Billy Cunningham,
ACC coaches in the Naismith Hall are Duke's
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