Former Superstar Aligns With the Suns
When filling out a job application to work in the NBA, having “Hall of Famer” on your resume will typically get you in the door.
At least it did for Ralph Sampson. The former NBA All-Star center and future 2013 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee has signed on to become a member of the player development department at the Suns.
Player development, which is the newest wing within the Suns’ basketball operations department, is spearheaded by former NBA standout Lindsey Hunter and has been charged with improving the skills of the young players on Phoenix’s roster.
“Ralph was a super-intelligent player with some good basketball knowledge,” Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry said. “Anytime you can add anybody like that to the staff on the player development side, it’s going to be pretty good.”
Sampson, who was a three-time Naismith College Player of the Year Award winner at Virginia, went on to become the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 1984 and a four-time NBA All-Star. Unfortunately, knee and back injuries cut short a career that was considered one of the most promising of any young player to ever play the game.
Suns GM Lance Blanks, who played two years at Virginia before transferring to Texas, rekindled a relationship with Sampson over the offseason at the Jerry Colangelo Basketball Hall of Fame Golf Classic in Arizona. After some talks and some visits, Blanks asked him if he’d like to be involved on the player development side with the Suns.
Sampson, who has been trying to break back into basketball, gladly accepted.
“I just want to help out anywhere I can to make the franchise successful,” Sampson said. “I want to learn everything about the game as possible and not pigeon-hole myself anywhere. I like teaching the young kids the right and wrong of things and seeing them grow and develop.”
Sampson was a trendsetter even as a player. Although he was 7-4, he could step out and play on the perimeter, which was unheard of at the time. In addition, he was training with weights before teams made that a consistent part of their workout regimen.
Although he was renowned for his skills and moves as a big man, Sampson believes that he can impart more wisdom to the players when it comes to the mental side of the game.
“It’s all about valuing the game, respecting the game and understanding that you have a small window of opportunity where you can play the game and you have to take advantage of it,” the former All-Star said. “They can have people drill them all day with skills.
“But if I can get their mental up, then I can get their skill level up. And if they come to work every day, then their skill level will go way up.”
Joining Sampson and Hunter in player development will be former NBA veteran and University of Arizona alum Sean Rooks. Rooks, who spent 12 seasons in the league, even played for Gentry when he was the head coach of the Clippers.
“When I coached Sean at the Clippers I thought that he shot the ball well, was a real smart player and a hard worker,” Gentry said. “And then he worked for one of my best friends, Mo McHone, in the NBADL and he told me that he could be a good coach given the right opportunity.”
With a younger roster and an emphasis on improving the talent that the organization has in-house, player development will figure to play an important role with the Suns this season.
“It’s something that we have to take seriously because we have a younger team now,” Gentry said. “When it comes to meetings and all of the stuff that we have to do as coaches, the fact that we have a player development group to take these guys out, work with them and break down the things that they need to do to improve on is great. It’s a whole unified front and we’re hitting the players with everything we can to get them as good as we can.”
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