By Joseph Staszewski
This time last year, JaKarr Sampson was certain he wanted to return to St. John’s University for another season, but the sophomore forward came up with a different plan after finishing up this year’s campaign.
The 6-foot-9 forward will not be back in Queens next season, and has opted to forgo his final two years of eligibly to enter the NBA Draft.
“Last year it didn’t feel right for me,” Sampson said the 2013 draft. “I didn’t feel comfortable. I was in between. That’s why I came back. This year it was clear cut for me. I feel right about it.”
Sampson, a former Big East Rookie of the Year, averaged 13.9 points per game and 6.4 rebounds per contest during his two years at St. John’s. He has been told he may be selected late in the first round or midway in the second round by his advisers and through information gathered by Red Storm Coach Steve Lavin.
Pressure to help his family financially was not a factor in his decision.
“I spoke with my group and Coach Lav and it fells right now,” Sampson said. “I felt like I have a good opportunity in front of me.”
His decision was compared to the departure of Maurice Harkless after his freshman season two years ago. Harkless worked his way up in the draft and was selected No. 15 overall by the Orlando Magic.
Sampson, unlike Harkless at the time, is currently not listed as an anticipated pick in the majority of mock drafts. He has not signed with an agent yet, but plans on doing so. Sampson knows he has his work cut out for him, but is motivated by people saying he left too soon to enter a deep draft.
“I know what I can do,” Sampson said. “I know where I can go at the next level. I’m an unfinished. I would be off every summer. I’m never going to stay the same. I’m going to get better every year.”
He thinks he will have to show off his shooting and ball handling skills at workouts.
Lavin believed Sampson can make a good impression on NBA executives with his infectious personality and passion. He thinks Sampson has all the physical tools to play at the highest level.
“The NBA people I have been taking with see he is a player with intriguing upside and tremendous potential,” Lavin said. “The next couple months with go a long way to determining where he is drafted.”
Sampson said he wasn’t happy with his college career ending without making the NCAA tournament and a lopsided loss in the NIT. The Red Storm finished 20-13 overall this season. Sampson is going with his gut and pursuing a different dream.
“It feels kind of like when I committed to St. John’s,” Sampson said. “I just got a good vibe.”
Hooper leaving Red Storm: Shooting guard Max Hooper has been given permission to explore transfer opportunities, the school announced Thursday.
The sophomore forward graduates this May in just three years with a bachelor’s in psychology.
He transferred in from Harvard two years ago and sat out a season because of NCAA transfer rules.