clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

YouTube Gold: Sampson vs. Sabonis

Two great who might have been even greater if things had turned out a bit different

Notre Dame Fighting Irish v Virginia Cavaliers
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - JANUARY 6: Ralph Sampson #50 of the Virginia Cavaliers sets up in the post during an NCAA game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on January 6, 1982 at the University Hall in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Photo by Collegiate Images via Getty Images

This is a really fascinating clip featuring a very young Ralph Sampson vs. a very young Arvidas Sabonis.

We never got to see either of these guys truly live up to their potential. Sampson had some good years before injuries limited his mobility and while Sabonis was drafted in 1986, the same year Johnny Dawkins was taken out of Duke by San Antonio, he was not allowed to play in the West until the Soviet Union fell. He spent six years in Spain before Portland took a chance on him despite his own serious injuries.

In the ACC, Sampson simply overwhelmed opponents with his size and athleticism. As you’ll see here, he met his match in Sabonis. He was just 17 at the time and very thin, far from the 292 he would later play at.

It’s kind of amazing to watch these two star-crossed big men. They both showed immense potential and achieved a lot of it. It’s really a shame that injuries slowed them both and that the USSR would not allow Sabonis to play abroad.

One final note about Sabonis: when he was playing for the Soviets, a lot of Americans simply assumed he was Russian when in fact he was Lithuanian. After the fall of the Soviet Union, most Americans soon realized that the great talents of the USSR were almost entirely Lithuanian. The Russian national basketball program has never gotten anywhere near the greatness it built on the backs of Lithuanian/Baltic talent.