Is 7 ft. 4 in., college sophomore Ralph Sampson ready to play pro basketball? Based on his performance in the recent NCAA tournament, some observers think he needs more seasoning to become a "franchise" player. He led Virginia to a third-place finish, but was fairly well shackled by both North Carolina and Louisiana State in Final Four action.
Whether people think he is too thin or inexperienced for the National Basketball Association doesn't alter the fact every pro team would love to have him. Either Detroit or Dallas may get that chance if Sampson declares himself eligible for the NBA's June draft by midnight, April 25. That's the deadline given nonseniors, including such All-Americans as Indiana's Isiah Thomas and DePaul's Mark Aguirre, to announce their future plans.
Sampson would almost certainly be the first player selected in the draft if he dropped out of school, but the suspense comes in not knowing which franchise owns the No. 1 selection. That won't be determined until April 30, when the two teams with the worst records, Detroit and Dallas, toss a coin for the right to choose first.
Both clubs were asked to submit written contract proposals to Sampson. Donald J. Carter, president of the Dallas Mavericks, actually met briefly with Ralph earlier this week in Charlottesville, Va. His pitch was low-key, according to Virginia Coach Terry Holland, who indicated that Carter told Sampson, "If you were my own son, I wouldn't tell you to leave college. In fact , I'd tell you to stay. But if it's the thing you want to do, the Mavericks can take care of you."
The "soft sell" didn't include a money offer, although both Dallas and Detroit are reportedly prepared to pay as much as $1 million a year, but Carter did come with a special videotape in hand.On the tape, Dick Motta, coach of the Mavericks, explained how Sampson would fit into his plans, and Roger Staubach, retired quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, talked about life in the Big D.
The Pistons, who are expected to make their pitch before the week's out, will probably be just as low-key since Sampson rebuffed the Boston Celtics when they made strong overtures for his services last year.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar advised him then to stay in school, enjoy himself, and allow his value to increase as his game improved. Though tremendously coordinated for his height, Sampson, a product of Harrisonburg, Va., entered the college ranks without benefit of the tough high school competition once faced by Abdul-Jabbar in New York and Wilt Chamberlain in Philadelphia.