Less than a week ago, the long overdue cheering began for Mike Samson, George Washington University's brave, bright and bruised basketball forward.
As might be expected the standing ovations, the chants of "Samson, Samson, Samson" came for reasons that Samson, were he not such a generous fellow, might well hold in contempt.
"Scorers get all the credit, even if they shouldn't," says Samson, who as a four-year GW letterman has a 7.2 career scoring average.
"This has been a strange experience, a nice experience," he says of scoring 94 points in GW's last three games on incredible 73 percent shooting.
"My coach says I'm in the Twilight Zone, but I don't feel like I'm living a fantasy.
"I know one thing. As soon as I have a bad game, it'sll all stop."
Cheers are a cruel coin of payment. Samson has done the dirty work, set the picks, played the tough defense on the other team's front-court star on four winning Colonial teams. And he has done it in silence.
When Samson soaks his arthritic hands in hot water on cold January mornings, "to get them working again," no one chants his name. "A defensive guy has to use his hands and fingers as battering rams," he said.
When Samson went through knee surgery, a broken wrist, a broken jaw, a broken nose and enough sprained ankles to accumulate "13 bone spurs, some ridiculous number like that," he heard the sound of no hands clapping.
When Samson had split lips, cheeks and eyelids stitched up hurriedly in the locked room, then raced back into games, few noticed. The box scores don't have columns marked "blood and guts."
The current ovations take no note of Samson's hard-won academic stardom, either. The 6-foot-5, 205-pound blound, who says, "I never thought of myself as that good a student," has labored his way to 17 straight As in his chemistry major and now has an early acceptance to medical school.
GW Coach Bob Tallent says Samson will be considered by the university for Rhodes Scholarship nomination. "His basketball, not his grades, were all we wondered about," Tallent says with a laugh.
The loud hullabaloo in the stands of late has not been for Samson's unusual personality or his broad range of interests that would put to shame the entire traveling squad of many a top 10 team.
The Kentucky lad built himself a radio at age 11, and an automobile at 17.
"I bought it as a wreck for $50, got a book on cars to teach myself to rebuild it, drove it for three years, then sold it for $250," Samson says proudly.
Basketball crowds think they admire players with soul. They wouldn't recognize a swimming pool full of the stuff.
Samson, who quietly says his favorite novel is "Crime and Punishment," reads the morning paper cover-to-cover every day.
"I got in the habit because medical school was so important to me that I didn't want them to be able to ask me a general question about anything in the world that I wouldn't know something about." Then he laughs at such an ambitious notion.
Samson is no grind. Occasionally he takes a 30-mile bike ride to Mount Vernon simply because he misses the countryside where he grew up.
The sort of mixture of discipline and sensitivity, a familiarity with carburetors and Dostoevsky, which Samson finds natural, might qualify as far more proof of soul than any slam dunk.
Yet Samson knows that none of these traits will ever win him cheers.
"I guess I'm just content to be a star for a week," he says. "Actually, I cherish it. It's like a reward that I'll always remember. On the other hand, I don't think it will continue. I don't need it or expect it."
When he tied the Smith Center scoring record with 35 points (and got 17 rebounds) last Saturday against Pittsburgh, Samson, who had not scored more than 20 in a game before, was the last to know.
"When somebody told me I had scored 35, I couldn't believe it. Then I noticed everybody was still standing up yelling," says Samson. "Maybe I'm the only guy dumb enough to miss his first standing ovation. I just caught the end of it."
"Yeah, yeah, I noticed the ovation Wednesday," he says, reluctantly. "I got a dunk and they started chanting my name. That got my attention. No, of course it never happened before."
Samson's explosion is easily explained. In the last three games, Tallent has moved Samson back inside to his natural, power-forward game and turned him loose.
"It's kinds screwy looking," says Tallent, horrified at having to move 6-8 jumping jack Tom Glenn to the perimeter where his worst gunning instincts can flourish. "But both Mike and Tom love it. In fact, Mike's forgotten how to miss."
Samson won't complain when his bubble bursts.
"They gave psychological tests at the med school and they were kinds fascinated by me," he says. "I kept listing my injuries and thinking of more of 'em all the time.
"They said that every injury leaves a psychological scar, and what in the world was driving me on. When would I quit. How could a little game have such a hold on me?
"I guess I never did make them understand."
Anyone in Smith Center when the chanting starts has a fairly good clue.