In a matter of a year, Ralph Sampson III has gone from a son of a famous basketball star to a confident player carving out his own identity. The 6-foot-11, 225-pound center from Northview High School in Duluth, Ga. is making himself a high-major priority.
At last year's NBA Players Association camp and the Nike All-American camp, Sampson did not make the headlines with his production or potential. The rest of the summer was rather un-descript. His junior year was productive and efficient. The light was starting to go off.
Sampson looked strong in March at regional AAU events with the Georgia Stars. Two weeks ago at the Nike Memorial Day Classic, he shined with his effectiveness.
Rivals.com's Jerry Meyer wrote: "Sampson is clearly on the upswing as a prospect, and has room to further develop. The light has clicked on for the big fellow, and it is only going to get brighter."
Sampson said he sees the improvement in his own game and likes the direction he is heading in.
"From last year to now, I think I have improved one hundred percent," Sampson said. "I've gotten faster and stronger and all around more comfortable with the ball. I'm more confident in what I can do on the court. Last year, I didn't display what I could do. Now, I'm displaying more. I still feel like there is a lot more to come.
"There are two things that have really helped me. My faith and belief in God and helping me believe in myself with my talents and hard work…I believe I've made strides in every part of my game. I feel like I'm going harder and demanding the ball more in the post."
His improvement can be traced to his own receptiveness to coaching as well as playing alongside and with guys like five-stars Al-Farouq Aminu, Tony Woods and 6-foot-9 center Darius Morrow.
"My mother has always taught me to be humble and I've learned that you can always learn things from anyone no matter who they are," Sampson said. "I think of it as an iron and strengthening it through fire. Each of those guys are great players and I get to play against different styles. They also gets to play against different styles. It helps everybody."
Sampson will get a taste of different styles of play over the next couple of weeks. Sampson and his family will travel to North Carolina this weekend, where they will visit Wake Forest and Duke. The following weekend, Sampson will head west to see Cal and UCLA. He tripped to Minnesota earlier in the summer to see Tubby Smith and the Gophers.
Sampson has been offered by Minnesota and Georgia Tech offered while Sampson was on campus for the Yellow Jackets' team camp.
"I'm excited about the offers," Sampson said. "I'm still trying to gather my options and see who is interested in my so I can make a well-informed decision…I am hoping (the visits) can give me better insight to different styles of coaching and different styles of ball and seeing what styles work best for my style.
"Academics are very important. There has to be a life after basketball. I'm looking for a school that can not only help me with life during basketball but after it, too."
While no one is standing out the most, Sampson said he likes what he has seen from Minnesota, his only true unofficial visit this year.
"When I took the trip to Minnesota, it helped me get a feel for what college life and college athletics are all about it," he said. "It was very exciting to go up there."
Sampson will participate in the NBA camp in Virginia, making his third trip to the prestigious camp. It also makes a return trip to his dad's alma mater.
Maybe this time, he will be in the headlines for what he is doing on the court.