Smith lands big commitment

6-foot-11, 220 pound center Sampson, will join Gophers’ squad.

Zach Eisendrath

Tubby Smith’s first recruiting class as head coach of the Minnesota men’s basketball team continues to get stronger.

On Thursday, Smith nabbed arguably his biggest target, literally and figuratively, when 6-foot-11, 220-pound center Ralph Sampson III from Duluth, GA, gave his oral commitment to the Gophers, according to

The big man from Northview High School in Duluth, GA., chose Minnesota over Georgia Tech and Clemson. Maryland and Kentucky had also been in strong pursuit of Sampson.

Sampson, who Smith had been heavily recruiting since the moment he took the Minnesota job last March, is rated the 15th best center in the nation by Rivals.

Those who questioned if Smith could recruit are starting to be questioned themselves.

Sampson, the son of former college and NBA standout Ralph Sampson, joins 2008-2009 junior college recruits Paul Carter and Devron Bostick and South Dakota power forward Colton Iverson.

Iverson and Sampson both came to Minneapolis in early September to tour the campus together. At that time, the two big men developed a strong bond, Iverson said.

Iverson said he is thrilled Sampson will be joining him on the Gophers frontcourt of the future.

I’m really excited. I’ve been waiting to hear that for awhile. I knew he had been leaning towards (Minnesota). I’m really looking forward to playing with him,” he said. “Coach Smith gave us a hint that we could play a lot together.”

Many recruiting experts believe the Gophers current four-player recruiting class is ranked within the top-10 in the country. Iverson said he too has heard such rumblings.

“That’s pretty flattering,” Iverson said. “I’ve heard that too. I’m pretty excited.”