Bucks assistant grateful for exemplary role models - Part I of II

Bucks assistant grateful for exemplary role models - Part I of II
Sampson's coaching roots go back homeward

by Truman Reed / special to Bucks.com

Kelvin Sampson's basketball roots lead back to his humble boyhood home in the Lumbee Indian community of Deep Branch and to Pembroke (N.C.) High School. (NBAE / Getty Images)
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March 30, 2009

If you were to trace the basketball roots of the country's most accomplished coaches, many would lead to the coaching trees of such luminary figures as Phog Allen, Pete Newell, Henry Iba and John Wooden.

They inspired and heavily influenced the likes of Dean Smith, Bobby Knight, Eddie Sutton and Denny Crum.

And those men now have expansive coaching trees of their own.

Kelvin Sampson's basketball roots lead back to his humble boyhood home in the Lumbee Indian community of Deep Branch and to Pembroke (N.C.) High School.

Kelvin's father, John W. "Ned" Sampson, coached the Pembroke High boys basketball team, for many years with his son in his shadow, watching his every move.

And the first-year Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach wouldn't have it any other way. He has observed and trained under some the country's foremost coaches and has learned a great deal from them.

None of them, however, measure up to his dad, who coached him for two years and has mentored him for 53.

"My dad was a high school coach for 30-plus years in North Carolina, and he was inducted into the North Carolina High School Coaches Hall of Fame," Kelvin siad. "He's the best coach I've known, in every way, all the way around -- relationships, motivation, going the extra mile, always putting his kids first and foremost.

"In my formative years, when I was a little kid, I'd get out of elementary school and, because my mother worked as a nurse, I'd have to find a way to get a ride to the high school and watch my dad's team practice."

Ned Sampson would leave home at 6 or 6:30 in the morning, go about his work and then conduct practice when basketball was in season. The job, as he saw it, wasn't finished at that point.

"The school was a rural school, and his players lived all over, as far as five to 10 miles away," Kelvin explained. "Sometimes those kids had to walk, maybe not 10 miles, but I know a lot of them walked five miles to get home.

"The ones who had the long distance, my dad would always drive them home."

Ned Sampson was much more than just a hall-of-fame basketball coach, and part of that was out of necessity to support his family.

"My dad had four jobs," Kelvin said. "A high school coach's contract was only for four months. When basketball season was over, he'd teach driver's ed. He sold World Book Encyclopedias. He sold Lincoln American Life Insurance. And he worked at a tobacco market.

"I was raised with all of that. A lot of the kids at the tobacco market went on to play basketball for him. They saw him as more than just a basketball coach. They saw someone who did things the right way and had great values."

Ned Sampson was a heralded civil rights champion, too. He and some 500 other Lumbee Native Americans drew national attention in 1958 for an act of bravery that is celebrated annually as the Battle of Hayes Pond.

"My dad and a bunch of his friends -- there's a lot more to it than this -- were involved in breaking up a Ku Klux Klan rally in a little town just outside Maxton, N.C.," Kelvin said. That town is about 12 miles from where my dad and I were born and raised."

Kelvin developed a deep admiration for his father at an early age, and it has never waned.

"His value system and the way he treated people and the way people treated him were special," Kelvin said. "I had a great mentor."

Kelvin made it clear that he had not one, but two outstanding role models at home.

"I think the person I probably respected most, though no more than my dad, was my mother Eva," he said. "I don't know that she gets enough mention. I always talk about my dad because he was a coach and I became a coach.

"But my mother was a school nurse. She was the head of the health services program at the university (Pembroke State University, where Kelvin became a student-athlete)."

Kelvin's mother was a registered nurse for over 30 years, and her commitment to her job and to her family were not lost on her son.

"She was probably the hardest worker, with the best work ethic, of anyone I've ever been around," Kelvin said. "I mean she was relentless. What work ethic I had growing up, I got from her, just the ability to put in long hours and work to achieve goals. She was goal-oriented.

"The way she was raised and what she accomplished in her life was far more significant than anything I've accomplished."

Kelvin will be forever respectful and grateful to his parents for the lifetime of examples they have set for him and for so many others.

"My dad has always been my role model," he said. "And it's not just that he's the best coach I've been around; he's also as good a person. He's a hall-of-fame coach, but more than anything, he's a hall-of-fame person.

"I just remember growing up and seeing former players always coming by on Sundays to visit, or calling my dad at home. He and my mother were surrogate parents to so many young kids. Whether they had economic hardships or family hardships or whatever, they took so many young kids under their wings.

"And they got repaid many times over just by staying in touch with them. Inevitably, I think that had a lot to do with me wanting to be a coach. If my dad had been a carpenter, I probably would have been a carpenter. If he had been a construction worker, that's probably what I would have been. He was that much of a role model to me."

Kelvin Sampson didn't become a carpenter or a construction worker, though. He pursued his father's trade.

Visit bucks.com again soon to find out where his pursuit led him.

Read Part II