But, what he’s most proud of is passing along the lessons he’s learned to the next generation and helping young people find their way to success. At least that’s the message he shared as keynote speaker for Bluefield College’s Tierney Scholarship Awareness Dinner, January 24.
Designed to increase community responsiveness to the need for a strong scholarship program at Bluefield College, the Tierney Scholarship Awareness Dinner brings prominent speakers to the community each year with the hope that local residents will pay premium prices to hear the notable speakers and ultimately support the BC Fund for Scholarships.
“This event will go a long way with students,” Sampson told the more than 100 guests attending the Fourth Annual BC Scholarship Dinner. “You may not realize the difference you’re making until later on down the road. Bluefield College is a great story. I hear good things about the school, and I’m glad to help and to help raise money for the scholarship program.”
A native of Harrisonburg, Virginia, Sampson was the most heavily recruited college basketball player of his generation. As center for the University of Virginia, he led the Cavaliers to a National Invitational Tournament title in 1980, an NCAA Final Four bid in 1981, and an NCAA Elite Eight appearance in 1983. Before graduating, he also earned three Naismith Player of the Year Awards.
The Houston Rockets made Sampson the number one overall pick in the NBA draft in 1983. In his first year in the NBA, he was dubbed Rookie of the Year and earned his first of three selections to the NBA All-Star team. In 1986, he led the Rockets to the NBA Finals, before knee injuries began to plague the seven-footer and ultimately cut his career short.
“He’s a player who changed the game,” said BC men’s basketball coach Richard Morgan, who also played basketball at UVA. “Rules were changed because of how dominant a player he was, but not only is he a great basketball player, but also a great businessman and a great person.”
Since retiring from basketball, Sampson has committed most of his time to giving back to his community, primarily through his Winner’s Circle Foundation, an organization designed to support youth with after-school programs, tutoring services, enrichment projects, and scholarship programs. That kind of work, he said, is something far more valuable than any accomplishment on the court.
“As I look back, I realize I had a great life as I was coming up, one that I could not put a value on,” said Sampson, who was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011. “My mom and dad taught us well. We had to work to get ours. We weren’t given anything. So, what I hope to bring when I speak to kids all over the country or when I do these types of events is my teaching from my mom and dad.”
In addition to that teaching, Sampson shared his “MAP” to success. He spoke about being mentally prepared for success and about how motivation (M), attitude (A) and planning (P) lead to success.
“If you can build a system of success and put the right people around you to implement it, then you’ll succeed, whether it’s in basketball or in life,” said Sampson, who’s also a member the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. “You just have to keep at it until you get it right.”
In addition to his remarks, Sampson participated in a meet-and-greet with fans and provided an autographed jersey, auctioned for $1,000 to raise even more scholarship funds for BC students.
“One thing that jumps out about him is his humility,” said BC President David Olive. “You don’t often see that in highly successful athletes. His priorities are focused in the right direction, and he represents what it truly means to have a servant’s heart.”
As part of the program, Dr. Olive recognized members of BC’s men’s basketball team. He also spoke about recent accomplishments at the school, including the addition of intercollegiate football and a nursing program. In addition, the president shared how important it is for the school to have a strong scholarship program.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about the kids, it’s all about the students,” said Coach Morgan. “It’s all about getting them to believe they can succeed. It’s great to see so many people come out to an event like this to support our kids. We thank you for what you’re doing to help us educate and work with these students.”