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Last season George Washington lost to Georgetown 61-48 and to Virginia 80-54. Colonial Center Mike Brown, 6'9", made six of 13 shots and scored 14 points against Ewing; he went three for 14 and had nine points against Sampson. "We took the ball right at Ewing and were fairly successful," says George Washington Coach Gerry Gimelstob. "We tried to take it to Sampson, but he was just too big." Brown adds, "I don't think Pat is ready. It's the principle of senior versus sophomore. Ralph's got a whole lot more stuff. He may eat Pat up."
Louisville's 6'7" Rodney McCray, whose team lost to both Virginia (74-56) and Georgetown (50-46), says, "I could get my shot off Ewing. After a while I felt he was pretty much the same as me—we play against a lot of seven-footers, you know. But against Ralph—the four inches is a big difference. You spend a lot more time thinking about him. I feel Patrick is in for a long evening." Rodney's brother. Scooter, adds, "Ralph can stand five feet off you on defense and still get the block. How much taller can a man be? How much better?"
It's assumed that Ewing, now wider in the shoulders and up to 230 pounds from 220 after off-season weight work, has a strength advantage. But Sampson did some heavy lifting of his own this summer and bulked up 15 pounds to 230. He curled two 90-pound dumbbells and squatted 690 pounds on a hip sled. The latter exercise so developed Sampson's legs that his vertical leap increased from 31 inches to 34½ Combined with his reach of 9'8", that means Sampson can touch a point two and a half feet above the rim. "Pat may have longer arms than me," Sampson said last summer after returning from a picture session in Chicago, where he roomed with Ewing. "But I think he's only about six-ten."
Long before Sampson bulked up. New Jersey Net Buck Williams, the 1981-82 NBA Rookie of the Year, was an admirer. For two seasons at Maryland the physical Williams effectively guarded Sampson from behind by ramming a knee into Sampson's buttocks. He body-checked and punished Sampson more than any other opponent had. Then, last March, Williams and some other Nets watched Ewing in the NCAA final on TV. "The man was so fast, so physical, he played so hard, we couldn't believe it," Williams says. "Patrick looked like some African tribal chieftain. We nicknamed him the Mogumbi Man."
From a pro's point of view, however, Williams still prefers Sampson. "Ewing is so quick off his feet that Sampson is going to be looking over his shoulder for him, and he's never had to do that," Williams says. "But let me tell you, Ralph is the best. He's a walking time bomb. Nobody else that size can do the things he does. Not even Kareem. If Ralph played with max intensity every time out, he'd be up there with Russell. If Ralph explodes in this game, it's over."
Sampson's most efficient tormentor last season was 6'11", 254-pound Jim Johnstone of Wake Forest, who cannily used his considerable bulk to attain offensive position underneath the rim so Sampson had no room to block Johnstone's banked hook shot. This would be an advisable tactic for Ewing if he'd been trained to score with his back to the basket. Unfortunately, Ewing's offense is primarily face-on, and he has never faced on anybody like Sampson.
It's likely that at first Ewing will attack Sampson with drives and baby jumpers; he could get a slew of Colgate-Palmolives (facials) right back. By driving he also could pick up some charging fouls right away. (Meanwhile, everyone should plead with the Great Ref in the Sky to allow these fellows a wide berth and to make sure no Mickey Mouse calls interfere with the activity under the boards.) When this strategy fails, it will be incumbent upon Ewing, an accomplished passer in traffic, to feed and move and otherwise occupy Sampson in the lane long enough so that Sampson can't tarnish the shooting efforts of Georgetown's primary marksmen, Anthony Jones and David Wingate. Even if Brown were fully healthy, the Hoyas would need some shooting from freshman Wingate in this game. Without Brown, Wingate must score often to keep the Virginia defense honest. Another key for Georgetown is Bill Martin, a sophomore forward who had an undistinguished rookie season.
With Sampson having sealed off the middle—mostly within zone combinations, because it's unlikely Virginia will expose its one weakness, lack of speed, in a man-to-man against the quicker Hoyas—Ewing must search elsewhere for his baskets. Last season Guard Sleepy Floyd got the ball deep inside to Ewing. The question is, can Gene Smith, Brown's replacement at the point, do the same? It may not matter. Most of what Ewing gets offensively will come off his and Georgetown's defense: transition baskets after steals, fast-break layups, rebound follow-shots and an occasional ferocious dunk when he beats Sampson down the floor. The one thing Ewing has in abundance over Sampson is straight-ahead speed and stamina. He will run the Capital Centre court for 40 minutes, if he's in the game that long, and will never stop trying to wear Sampson out.
The team whose center dunks first won't necessarily win, but immediately following the first slam by each big man look for half the television outlets showing this game to experience technical difficulty because of the earthquake-size tremors set off by the crowd in Landover.
Georgetown won its 30 games last year on defense: ravaging full-court presses and traps and then a fall-back 1-3-1 zone, with Ewing in the middle covering three-fourths of Pennsylvania Avenue. The Hoyas were on the prowl for every minute of every half. "Each time Georgetown makes a basket or a free throw, you know the press is coming again," says Villanova Center John Pinone. "You can play 30 or 35 minutes and it just wears you down mentally. Then in two minutes they make three steals and the game is over."