Two years ago Ralph Sampson and Sam Bowie were the top-rated high school basketball players in the country. Each was considered "a franchise" because each was big, mobile and could be effective both inside and outside.
Sampson, 7 feet 4 and labeled the next Bill Russell-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, chose to stay close to home at Virginia. Bowie, a Pennsylvanian, turned down close-by Maryland and went to Kentucky. Both had ups and downs as freshmen.
Now, early in their sophomore seasons, it is becoming apparent why they were so highly regarded two springs ago. Friday night Sampson unveiled his new self in Virginia's first test, against Duke. He was astonishing, dominating the game with 30 points and 17 rebounds, despite two early fouls. He played with more confidence than last season, moved better and, most important, played inside most of the game, as opposed to last season when he was often wasted at the high post.
Saturday night, the 7-1 Bowie showed that he is just a step behind Sampson. In Kentucky's 87-73 rout of a good Kansas team, Bowie had 29 points and 16 rebounds, displaying a kind of quickness and inside strength he often lacked last season. He still has a tendency to wander outside and shoot the 20-footer but Coach Joe B. Hall probably will cure him of that.
In Saturday's game, Hall used Bowie and 7-foot Melvin Turpin together for the first time, something Kentucky fans have been screaming for. They played about three minutes together and Hall said afterward, "I hope we get the opportunity to use them together in the future." He should get that opportunity.
Kansas Coach Ted Owens harshly criticized his team in its locker room after the loss, accusing the players of "not competing." The way Kentucky is playing, several NBA teams might have trouble competing.
One other note on Kentucky: Hall has decided that no press will trespass in his locker room after games. So the entire team is brought to a separate interview room, while the well-heeled boosters that show up at every game in Lexington overrun the locker room, waiting for their heroes to return.