Ralph Sampson, Virginia's 7-fot-4 basketball center, had decided to remain at Charlottesville for at least another year.

"I was flattered that the Boston Celtics were interested in drafting me," he said last night in a statement released by the school. "I felt I had to consider the financial advantages . .. but playing in the NBA is not the most important thing to me at this time.

"I have a number of prsonal goals I can accomplish only by returning to Virginia next season."

Virginia Coach Terry Hollan said he wasn't surprised. "He said all along that was what he was planning to do."

Sampson's decision to remain at the Atlantic Coast Conference school for his sophomore year was reported first yesterday by the radio station that originates Cavalier basketball games.

Celtics' owner Harry Mangurian and Red Auerbach, the president-general manager, had visited Sampson's parents Tuesday night in Harrisonburg and discussed the Celtics' offer. That deal reportedly included a first-year salary worth more than $500,000.

In Boston last night, Auerbach saidthe Celtics would attempt to get Sampson to change his mind before the April 25 declaration date for draft elgibility by undergraduates.

"Nobody's told us anything," Auerbach said in a telephone interview. "We're still going to be in there pushing because we know for a fact we're 100 percent in the right in what's best for the kid."

Auerbach noted that Sampson could bedrafted by a noncontending team and, perhaps a little bitterly, that he couldget injured in an automobile accident and lose any opportunity to pursue basketball as a living.

"Giving up well in excess of a halfmillion dollars to play college basketball for another year is ludicrous," Auerbach said. "Does this make sense?

"I don't know how those people who are advising him, if they have any kind of conscience, will be able to sleep for a year."

According to assistant coach Craig Littlepage, the very essence of what made the Celtics' offer seem so attractive -- playing for an established team and being able to sit on the bench and learn -- worked against Boston.

"To Ralph himself, it would be a greater challenge to be part of a rebuilding situation than to go to a proven team," Littlepage said. "He seems to be more challenged by playing in that situation than in being a cog in a wheel."

That analogy also could be drawn, Littlepage said, to Sampson's choice of Virginia, a school with only moderate basketball success, over such established national powers as Kentuckyand UCLA.

"Look at Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar)," Littlepage said. "He was chosen by a mediocre team (milwaukee) and . . . theywon the NBA championship (in Jabbar's second year)."

In fact, Littlepage said, Sampson never considered the Celtics' offer that seriously.

"His mind had been made up all along.He never said he was going to leave," Littlepage said. "He wanted to fulfill the curiosity he had and answer the questions he had in his mind."

Littlepage said that Sampson "has some things he would like to attain as a college player. He feels he is not giving up anything by (not) going for the Celtics' offer.

"He's gotten better by playing and the more he plays the better he gets . . .The NBA is not oriented toward a teaching environment."