In a surprising turn for Gophers men's basketball, Ralph Sampson III has declared himself eligible for the NBA draft.
Sampson officially entered the NBA draft prior to the Sunday deadline for underclassmen, according to the league, which released its list of early entrants Thursday morning.
Trevor Mbakwe's name, however, was not on the list, meaning that he's officially decided to stay in school.
Mbakwe, last season's rebounding king in the Big Ten, said he planned to explore his professional options in March but earlier this month he told the Star Tribune that he'd probably play for the Gophers next season.
Few, however, anticipated Sampson's decision. He is not listed among the top 100 NBA prospects on ESPN.com.
It's unclear if Sampson intends to hire an agent.
The 6-11 center must withdraw from the draft by May 8 -- if he hasn't hired an agent -- to preserve his collegiate eligibility.
"Not that I know of. Will let you know if he has," Gophers spokesman Matt Slieter said via text message when he was asked if Sampson had hired an agent, a move that would automatically end his collegiate career.
Yet the early buzz suggests that Sampson is serious about a possible transition to the pros and a departure from the University of Minnesota.
Sampson did not return phone calls, e-mails, text messages or Facebook requests for comment.
His former AAU coach and family friend, Georgia Stars president Norman Parker, said Sampson is "strongly considering" a jump to the pros. But he also said that he expects Sampson to finish school because of his family's commitment to academics.
"I think he's probably testing the waters," Parker said. "But he's pretty serious about putting his name in and staying in."
Last season, Sampson averaged 10.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game.
He is the second-tallest American underclassmen in the current draft pool. Only Chaminade's Mamadou Diarra, a 7-0 junior, is bigger.
A source close to the Gophers men's basketball program said he expects Sampson to finish his career with the Gophers before turning pro. He added that some influential people in Sampson's life are urging him to weigh his options.
"Sampson should stay in school," the source said. "He's been told by coaches and his own dad."
In December, Sampson's father, former three-time NCAA player of the year Ralph Sampson Jr., said his son had more ability than he displayed. During his first three years with the Gophers, Sampson developed a reputation as a talented but inconsistent performer.
"He's got a lot more skills and talent than he shows some time," the elder Sampson said. "I know his skill level and he's not even tapped into that yet."
Earlier this month, Gophers coach Tubby Smith questioned Sampson's immediate NBA potential but said he would support him if he chose to go pro.
"I think in Ralph's situation, he's been going to Chicago and working out. Obviously, his family and he feels like he wants to give it a shot," Smith said. "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."