At St. Vincent-St. Mary’s High School in Akron, Ohio an NBA player was born. At 6-foot-9 and 214 pounds he’s known as a defensive-stopping wing who plays with high intensity and has a knack for acrobatics around the rim.
This player helped lead The Fighting Irish to a state championship in 2009 and is known by his peers as a selfless teammate and leader.
No, no – not Cavs superstar LeBron James. The man in this story is Sixers guard JaKarr Sampson.
Sampson, who had just two points in four minutes in a 107-100 loss to the Cavs on Monday, got to watch as his childhood idol, James, became the youngest player in NBA history to notch 25,000 points off of an alley-oop dunk in the fourth quarter.
“I know [LeBron’s] proud of me,” Sampson said. “I feel like everyone who’s from where I’m from, we’re all proud of each other. We’re all close. All of the Ohio brothers are close.”
Attending the same high school as James, Sampson had the opportunity to go one-on-one with him on several occasions, when James visited practice. On Monday, Sampson entered the game late in the second quarter and defended James on the NBA stage. He held James to just 2-of-4 shooting for five points during the stretch.
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Sixers coach Brett Brown sees a larger role for Sampson this season, due to his defensive ability and leadership.
“Our best-balanced team is with JaKarr, because he can guard,” Brown said. “I see more of a veteran-type of mentality. [Sampson and Jerami Grant have] been with me longer and they had an amazing summer. They had summer league and they had hard workouts and then they were early September arrivals. They’ve just been consistent and they are reaping the benefits for a bunch of ways.”
Sampson started the Sixers’ first two games of the season at shooting guard before coming off the bench against the Cavs. With Nik Stauskas’ triumphant 15-point, 4-rebound debut in the Sixers starting lineup Monday, Sampson will have a harder time finding minutes at shooting guard the rest of the season.
But if the Sixers are trying to hold a lead late in the fourth quarter this season, there’s no question whose name coach Brown will call for the job.
“Last year, we worked really hard as rookies to establish ourselves on the defensive end,” Sampson said of himself and Grant. “That’s what we build this program around. We take pride in our defense. I feel like I’m way better than I was last year coming in. I feel more comfortable, bigger, stronger. It’s just a whole different feeling.