Ralph Sampson III is back in practice and is expected to play on Wednesday, in the Gophers’ NIT opener at LaSalle.

On Monday, coach Tubby Smith said the senior center – after missing two games in the Big Ten tournament with a tweaked knee -- has been playing in contact situations and while Sampson still moves gingerly at times, Smith expects he will be healthy enough to play. 

“He’ll play,” Smith said. “He looked good this morning. I’ll have to talk to him and find out if his knee is sore or anything. … He’s got to be fully, physically ready or he won’t be able to help us.”

Smith said he still had not decided whether he would start Sampson or bring him off the bench in favor of redshirt freshman Elliott Eliason, who started the two games against Northwestern and Michigan in the Big ten tournament. Sampson practiced on both the starting and reserve teams on Monday, Smith said.

Eliason has started six games this season while Sampson has been injured, the other four during the non-conference schedule. In the past two games, Eliason has scored four points each and has added 10 and nine rebounds. 

Sampson has at times been effective this season, but his offensive production has dropped from 10.2 points a game last year to 7.9 points this season. Were the Gophers to lose their first matchup, the game at LaSalle would be the last of Sampson’s college career. 

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