Gophers center Ralph Sampson III has entered the NBA draft, according to the list of early entrants released by the league Thursday morning. Sunday was the deadline for underclassmen to enter the draft.
I don't know if Sampson has hired an agent yet.
But a source close to the program said he believes Sampson will ultimately return to school for his senior season. My source also said that Gophers coaches and even Ralph Sampson Jr., a former No. 1 draft pick, have encouraged Sampson to finish school.
"Sampson should stay in school," the source said. "He's been told by coaches and his own dad."
Sampson has a great opportunity to team with Trevor Mbakwe, who didn't enter the draft, and take advantage of a young crop of Big Ten post players during the 2011-12 season.
Norman Parker, president of Sampson's former AAU program (the Georgia Stars), said Sampson is "strongly considering" a pro career. But he also said that he believes Sampson will play for the Gophers next season because of the value that both he and his family have placed on academics.
My source, however, said there are no guarantees of that because some influential people in Sampson's life have encouraged him to stay in the draft.
If Sampson intends to play for the Gophers next season, he'll have to withdraw from the draft by the NCAA-mandated May 8 deadline to preserve his collegiate eligibility. That deadline, however, only applies if he doesn't have an agent. This could be an interesting two-week window for the Gophers, who recently lost Colton Iverson.
Earlier this month, I talked to Tubby Smith about Sampson's future. Smith said he supported Sampson but also questioned his chances of getting picked by an NBA team this summer.
"I think in Ralph’s situation, he's been going to Chicago and working out," Smith said. "Obviously his family and he feels like he wants to give it a shot. I’m supportive of that. But pretty soon, he’s got to make a decision. I really haven’t seen him on anybody’s list to be a first or second round pick."
College players can use the draft to get feedback from NBA execs, which can help them project their pro prospects.
Sampson averaged 10.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game last season.