TIME OUT, PLEASE, for a few final-college-career words about Ralph Sampson, whose performance at the University of Virginia has been more than just a story about a premier basketball player. In Charlottesville, Mr. Sampson long ago captured and retained the title of all-time campus favorite, for his presence off court as well as on. Why? What was so different about the behavior of this 7-foot-4 athletic star?

It would have been enough probably that Mr. Sampson's playing years brought national sports attention to this campus as never before. It didn't hurt, either, that this young man from Harrisonburg chose to complete his undergraduate work and get his degree on time--not at all the pattern of today's top collegiate athletes, who at the flick of a Bic can become millionaire dropouts.

There has been widespread suspicion all this time that Mr. Sampson fell in love with his school, and that it has meant more to him than just a place to dunk and block. His teammates, too, sensed his affection and cited his modesty, as has his coach, Terry Holland, who calls him "unselfish to a fault."

Yes, Mr. Sampson can lose his composure on the court and, yes, it is true that he is fallible, that some critical games weren't won. But as Bill Brill, a Roanoke sports editor, has said, "The thing a lot of people don't realize about Ralph is what a well-rounded person he is. You might think that a kid, coming from a small town like he did, to a university which has never had much of a tradition of successful black athletes, would have trouble fitting in. But I think one reason Ralph stayed the whole four years is how much he liked the atmosphere here. I think he would have fit in just as well here, even if he hadn't played basketball."