Former Virginia men's basketball legend Ralph Sampson once said, "When you leave a footprint — if it's your shoe size, if it's writing your name on the wall or meeting someone and changing their life — you leave your footprint somehow on what you do."
The footprint Sampson left on the University is definitely bigger than his shoe size. And for someone who stands at 7 feet 4 inches, that's a pretty big shoe size we're talking about.
If you walk into John Paul Jones Arena and look at all the banners honoring the great players to have represented the Cavaliers, or scan through the program's record books, there is no doubt that the name 'Ralph Sampson' appears an overwhelming amount of times.
But what the records don't tell you is the kind of teammate and person Sampson was. The three-time National and ACC Player of the Year is often described as unselfish — almost to a fault — by those who played with him or coached him.
Despite the fact that Sampson's size is one that automatically draws attention, he was one of the most highly sought-after recruits while in high school and he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated multiple times while still in college, Sampson wasn't interested in the spotlight — even though the spotlight was certainly interested in him.
Sampson was a team-oriented guy who didn't prioritize winning the Naismith College Basketball Player of the Year Award over achievements that were attained as a team.
Additionally, even though Sampson's height alone set him up for making a mark in the basketball world, he still embraced and valued his role as a college student. Not only did Sampson graduate and earn his degree from the University, but he was also chosen to live on the Lawn during his senior year of college, which is one of the highest honors that the school grants its students.
"Here was the best player in the country coming out of high school who was an African-American that grew up 60 miles away and chose U.Va.," said Craig Littlepage, former Virginia athletics director and assistant coach for the Virginia men's basketball team in the 1981-82 season. "He became the nation's top player with opportunities each year to declare for the NBA draft, yet he stayed in school for four years and graduated."
Although Sampson could have easily made his time with Virginia a quick stop along the way to the NBA, he chose to spend four years in Charlottesville as both a student and a selfless teammate.