Sampson Declares For NBA Draft

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After all that he has said, he will test the waters.

Jamal Sampson announced yesterday that he is declaring himself eligible for the 2002 NBA Draft.

For most of the season, the 6-foot-11, 235-pound forward/center said his intention was to return to Cal for his sophomore season.

But less than a week after Cal's season-ending loss to Pitt, Sampson decided to enter his name into the draft.

Sampson's decision isn't a total surprise. He's always made it clear his ultimate goal is to play in the NBA and that leaving school early was a possibility. Even before arriving at Cal, there was talk he would enter the 2001 Draft.

Last year, three of the top four picks were post players out of high school. Sampson might have added his name to the list of preps in the draft had his mother, Ruth Smith, not stopped him.

"It's no secret Jamal contemplated going to the NBA out of high school," Smith said from her home in Inglewood, Calif. "The only reason he didn't go was me."

But after a season of Pac-10 basketball, he feels ready to take the next step.

"After careful consideration, I have decided to make myself eligible for the upcoming NBA Draft," Sampson said in a statement. "I've talked to members of my family and other people familiar with the NBA and realized that this is the best decision for me at the time."

Sampson averaged 6.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game this season. He also blocked 54 shots.

While his numbers aren't overwhelming, his height is. There is a premium on quality big men in the NBA. As a result, players near the 7-foot mark are being drafted earlier and earlier.

But only first-round picks receive guaranteed contracts, so if he is projected to go in the second round, the chances of Sampson returning might increase.

Sampson will now face the scrutiny of NBA scouts who will find everything good and bad about his game.

At a game this season, a scout for an Eastern Conference team noted Sampson has the physique many teams are looking for in frontcourt players.

With his long arms and broad shoulders, the scout said Sampson could easily play at 250 pounds. This is the potential many of the preps selected in the past were drafted on.

Among the problems he saw were Sampson's tendency to play too vertical on defense. By not bending his knees to get better leverage, the scout said shorter, stronger post players would be able to back him down in the NBA.

But he did improve over the season and was a force on the defensive end.

Concern has been expressed over whether Sampson has the offensive repertoire to play immediately in the pros. The general consensus has been he would be best served by another year of college.

Underclassmen have until May 12 to declare, but there are some post players who are expected to go high. The biggest is 7-foot-6 center Yao Ming, who plays in China for the Shanghai Sharks.

Fresno State's Melvin Ely, Duke's Carlos Boozer, Drew Gooden of Kansas and Chris Marcus of Western Kentucky are some of the post players who are expected to be selected.

Boozer and Gooden are juniors. Boozer has already declared. They, along with Tennessee's Marucs Haislip and Stanford's Curtis Borchardt, are some of the underclassmen with credentials that could overshadow Sampson's.

The draft is all about timing, and with the number of big men who figure to go this year, Sampson's might be a little off. But his talent is undeniable, so he could move up teams' draft charts with solid workouts.

Throughout the season, head coach Ben Braun has said he would support Jamal if he decided to leave Cal early, but always expressed the belief that staying would be the best for him.

"This decision was made by Jamal and his family," Ben Braun said. "I support him in the decision, but I'd personally like to see him come back to school, as I would with all players."

Smith said in the end, this was what Sampson wanted to do.

"(Declaring for the draft) was a decision Jamal made," Smith said. "I would like to see him go back for another year."

Because he has not hired an agent, Sampson can still return to Cal. He has until June 19 to do so. USC's Sam Clancy did so last year and bolstered his stock tremendously.

"Each person has to review his own opportunities and be responsible for his own path," Braun said. "Jamal is talking about an opportunity that has presented itself. It's up to Jamal to make that decision. I hope his tenure at Cal was helpful to him."

Academics often play a part in a player's decision to leave school. Sampson likely would be enrolled in summer school this year to ensure his eligibility, but Smith said that wasn't an issue, considering, the semester is only half-way over.

"I don't think academics was a factor in this decision," Smith said. "Jamal knows what he needs to do (academically) if he intends to go back. It's not like Jamal is a bad student."

In the end, Smith said this was Sampson's decision and his alone to make. She said he is of the age where he has to make his own decisions and be accountable for them.

She, like Braun, would like to see him return for his sophomore campaign. Smith said she would be speaking with Sampson next week, while he is in Southern California over spring break.

Out of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., Sampson was a third-team Parade All-American. As a senior, he put up 15.5 points, 10 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game while helping the Monarchs go 33-2 and win a state championship.

"I have enjoyed this year at Cal," Sampson said. "I like the team and the coaching staff, and it was a good decision for me to go to Cal. I felt that Coach Braun and the staff have helped me prepare for the next level."


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