Ralph Sampson: ‘Kentucky Can’t Deal With Adversity’

At 7-4, Ralph Sampson had the ability to dominate a basketball game, whether it was in college at the University of Virginia or in the NBA with the Rockets, Warriors, Kings or Bullets.

But he could also shoot the jumper. Sampson may have played in an era before the stretch-4 even existed, but he still took 58 three-pointers in his NBA career.

“You got to get a couple in,” Sampson said, chuckling in-studio on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney.

Unfortunately, Sampson only made 10 of those attempts, so his percentage – 17.2 – wasn’t all that great.

That’s fine. The 1985 Rookie of the Year and four-time NBA All-Star still has a lot to hang his professional hat on. But Tiki Barber wondered: Was basketball always fun for Sampson? Sometimes when you’re that tall, people just expect you to play basketball. But was it actually enjoyable? Did Sampson truly love the game?

“Early on, I played baseball,” Sampson said, stunning Barber and Brandon Tierney. “I pitched. So basketball wasn’t a favorite. We all played baseball, and I threw sidearm.”

That’s right. Sampson, a righty, threw sidearm. His ball curved. A lot.

“I was pretty good at that,” Sampson said.

As his arm got longer, however, the ball stopped curving and Sampson started hitting batters. So he was moved to first base, where he would sometimes catch the ball with his ungloved hand. Then he was moved to the outfield and, eventually, to the hardwood.

“Early on in basketball, we played on eight-foot baskets, and you could only score 16 points a game as a player because (they wanted) it to be fair (for) everyone else,” Sampson explained. “I had 16 point sin the first three minutes.”

Sampson also wasn’t allowed to dunk. After he scored his allotted 16 points, he would defend, rebound and block shots. Sampson eventually grew to love the game as he got older, “but early on, it wasn’t fun,” he said.

But then Sampson became a March icon, winning three Naismith Player of the Year Awards and a pair of Wooden Awards.

Now that his Cavaliers have been bounced by Michigan State – again – Sampson is curious to see what happens to No. 1 Kentucky (36-0). Can the undefeated Wildcats be beaten?

“If you are physical with Kentucky, they were a little stifled the last game,” Sampson said. “(Cincinnati) got them riled up a little bit, and they’re fighting amongst each other on the bench. They never had to do that. They never had adversity. They don’t know how to deal with it. If you get them down and they have to fight back, then I think they’ll explode.

“But it’s like the art of war,” Sampson continued. “You got to get the big guys in foul trouble, you got to have somebody who can shoot a three, you got to spread the defense out a little bit and you got to run them up and down the court. Now, if you can find somebody to do that, you can probably beat them.

“But they’re hard to beat because their second five is just as good as their first five. I tell everybody, you got four teams in the Final Four: Kentucky’s first string, Kentucky’s second string and then whoever else is out there. It doesn’t make a difference. But they got a good team.”

Kentucky plays No. 5 West Virginia (25-9) in the Sweet 16 on Thursday at 9:45 p.m. ET.

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