In borderline stunning news, Ralph Sampson III declared today that he will enter the upcoming NBA draft in hopes of getting a spot on a real, live NBA team. Anyone who has watched Sampson over the past couple seasons knows he’s far from NBA ready and would have a pretty tough time cracking a roster in The Association. Ralph is a solid, if unspectacular Big Ten player, but hasn’t yet shown the sort of intensity required for a post position in the NBA and doesn’t appear to have acquired the touch necessary to consistently hit mid-range jumpers – a skill that would allow him to avoid having to bang down low with guys like Al Jefferson.

In less stunning news, Trevor Mbakwe was not on the list of early entrants to the draft, meaning that he will, thankfully, be back in a Gopher uniform next season. Sampson’s move is surprising because the general consensus is that he has no business declaring for the draft. Mbakwe saw himself as a fringe second round pick and decided to hang around the coeds for another season. Given that he has shown himself to be head and shoulders above guys like Sampson, logic would insinuate that Sampson will have a hard time getting drafted.

In terms of importance to the team, I’d be much more devastated seeing Mbakwe walk instead of Sampson. With guys like Elliott Eliason and Mo Walker in the wings, there are sizable guys who can step in and possibly contribute. Mbakwe showed us in one season just how important he is, while Sampson was rarely missed when he was off the court. In essence, replacing Mbakwe in one year is next to impossible, and beasts like him don’t come along very often.

However, I’m still hoping that Ralph decides to come back. And if he refrains from hiring an agent, he is still eligible to play at the NCAA level. You never like to lose a senior, especially a senior that can contribute. For all of the flak Sampson gets for being soft or underwhelming, he’s a force to be reckoned with on defense and has his moments on offense. He’ll never live up to the expectations that were laid out for him at the beginning of his college career, but having to replace him with essentially two guys that have never played before is not something the Gophers need. With several unproven players expected to get major minutes next year, Minnesota will need all of the veteran leadership it can get, and Ralph will be a key to maintaining that presence.

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