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Sampson’s NBA draft prospects look dim

By Jared Green, Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday June 26, 2002

Jamal Sampson started the school year at Cal as a freshman with great promise. He won MVP honors at the BCA Classic in his first three games and turned into a defensive force to help the Bears reach the NCAA Tournament, earning All-Pac-10-Freshman honors. It looked as if the Bears had a big man who would dominate the middle for at least another year. 

But Sampson decided that one year of college was enough. He declared for the NBA Draft shortly after Cal’s NCAA second-round loss to Pittsburgh, then dropped out of school and signed with an agent, cutting off any chance to return to Cal. That decision is looking increasingly foolish heading into today’s draft, as it is all but impossible to find anyone who projects the 6-foot-11, 235-pound center/forward as a first-round pick. 

“Sampson could have been a first-round pick had he stayed in school a few more years,” said Andy Katz of “Instead, he’s likely going in the second round or could go undrafted. His size will be hard to turn away from, but he probably cost himself money by leaving school after one season.” 

Sampson is treading in dangerous waters. Unless a team makes a big reach to take him in the first round, Sampson won’t get a guaranteed contract. Second-round picks are often training camp fodder in today’s NBA, while undrafted free agents almost never find work. The Mater Dei graduate could be looking at a stint in the NBA’s developmental league or another minor league or a job in Europe. 

Coming out of high school, Sampson was grouped with the four prep big men who were drafted in the first round of last year’s draft, including top pick Kwame Brown and Chicago Bulls teammates Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler. But a broken foot made Sampson hesitant to enter the draft, opting instead for Cal. 

“I was real tempted, but surgery isn’t a good thing to have going into the draft,” he said. “I played against all those guys, and I measured up well with all of them.” 

Sampson was always honest about the fact that he was anxious to get to the NBA. 

“I’m like every other guy in that I want to get to the next level, but I’m not going to put a limit on it,” he said before his first game at Cal. “It could be one, two, three or four years.” 

Until the last few years, Sampson would have been at least a borderline first-round pick. After all, he is a big man with potential. But with the globalization of the game, foreign players have become more popular, with as many as 12 possibly going in the first round this year. That has pushed marginal U.S. players down the board, and Sampson is just one of several college stars who may not get a sniff of the NBA.