It is an unequivocal truth of the period from when the college basketball season ends and the professional one begins: young men who have their sights set on the dollars and fame the NBA brings, will over-inflate their own draft stock to escape the life of serfdom the NCAA offers.
Just over a calendar year ago on March 24, 2014, JaKarr Sampson seemed to have gotten himself caught up in that rapture. Leaving St. John's after just his sophomore season in which he averaged 12.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, Sampson seemed a long shot to hear his name called on draft night. Still, he went into the unknown, murky waters.
In JaKarr's case, it has worked out in the short-term after latching on with the Philadelphia 76ers. With Sampson's season now finished, we take a look back at the wild ride from this past year.
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"Everything's an adventure." A quick Google search pulls up tweets of Captain Morgan and archives from the Cincinnati Enquirer. Whom it doesn't mention is Sean O'Connor, the co-managing editor at Liberty Ballers, our familial site here at SB Nation. (You can check out the site here.) When asked to describe Sampson's season, that was O'Connor's response—which seems fitting, considering it was in every sense of the word, an adventure:
Sept. 15, 2014: Sampson signs a "partially-guaranteed" three-year deal with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Most of those who go undrafted are subject to rigmaroles of post-draft workouts for team's that never found it in them to select the player. The chances of making an NBA roster at one of those is slim, as the odds are that those in attendance are headed either for the D-League, or overseas to capitalize on their terrific ability.
Despite endless jokes and Internet memes about how the 76ers attempted to virtually flush their season down the drain before it began (BUT CAN THEY BEAT KENTUCKY!?!?), Sampson signing a contract that was in any kind of way guaranteed is extemporaneously impressive.
According to O'Connor, "[76ers General Manager] Sam Hinkie really liked him before he impressed in the NBA's Orlando Summer League...Seeing him in camp was not surprising, but at the time he did not look the part of an NBA player at any point..."
Oct. 29, 2014: JaKarr plays just under eight minutes in a 76ers loss on the road to the Indiana Pacers.
JaKarr wouldn't score in the Sixers' season opener, taking four shots, all of which would miss, and would grab just a single rebound. If you go by the statistic Game Score, it was actually his worst game of the season, with him checking in at -4.3.
He was recalled just three days later, but served as a healthy DNP until November 29 at home against Dallas where the Sixers lost by only seven points. From that point on, he'd not play in only two games the remainder of the season.
Jan. 3, 2015: His first double-digit scoring game (10 points) came on the back of the Sixers getting completely lambasted by the Los Angeles Clippers. It would be the first of 12 games in which he'd score in double figures on the season.
Apr. 15, 2015: On the day the season concluded, a weird thing happened: Sampson got 35 minutes of playing time, and he balled.
Scoring a season-high 22 points, to go along with six assists and five rebounds, there was no question that JaKarr ended his year on a high note.
In 74 games played—32 of which he started—Sampson averaged 5.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 1 assist per game for the 2014-15 Sixers.
Just over a calendar year later, Sampson went from undrafted free agent, to becoming a key component of the Sixers' race to the bottom. "The key for role players to stick around," said O'Connor, "Is to have some skills that can be useful and show improvement, hard work, and be a good teammate. There's definitely a chance he sticks around."
On the defensive end of the court alone, Sampson contributed to a win, finishing the season with a 1.1 DWS (Defensive Win Share). His positive work on defense outweighed his "negative" offensive output (which was heavily bogged down by his dreadful three-point shooting of 24.4 percent), putting him at 0.6 Win Shares for the year as a whole.
"He's made the season more entertaining...plus with his look and his undying love for Spongebob Squarepants, I've personally enjoyed the sideshow potential he brings," said O'Connor.
True, Sampson has brought a loose atmosphere to a locker room that was uptight the minute they were scrapped together. But as O'Connor points out, "He's got a lot of physical tools and skills to like...For someone his size, he's got a really solid handle and a quick first step."
As if reading off the eulogy for the 2014-15 Sixers, O'Connor reiterated "young, bad teams have nothing but hope and potential to dream on."
For Sampson, no matter where he may play, he'll keep letting the adventure do the dreaming for him.