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What's holding up Jamal deal?

Jamal Sampson could’ve played for Smart-Gilas in a game against San Miguel Beer at the Ynares Center in Antipolo last Friday but instead, sat behind the national team’s bench with traveling companion Chris Childress.

Sampson, 26, took the trouble of motoring all the way to Antipolo only to watch the contest in civvies. Until his contract is signed, SBP executive director Noli Eala said the 6-11 Sampson won’t play in any Gilas game but will continue to practice with the squad.

So what’s keeping Sampson from inking his John Hancock on the dotted line?

Obviously, Sampson is freezing the ball to negotiate for better terms. He admitted as much in a conversation outside the Gilas dug-out before the Antipolo game.

“It’s not the team’s fault, it’s mine,” said Sampson when asked to explain the snag.

But Sampson assured – sort of – that the deal would be signed, sealed and delivered in a few days. That’s because he said he likes it in the Philippines even if the humidity is torture on the court. Sampson doesn’t mind playing with “kids” just fresh out of college, relishes the pressure of putting the team on his back and can’t wait to get going.

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Gilas coach Rajko Toroman isn’t hiding his excitement over Sampson’s arrival. He’s been looking for someone who plays like or better than Hamed Haddadi to anchor the Philippine team in the same way the 7-2 center powered Iran to the FIBA-Asia crown in Tokushima two years ago with the Serbian at the helm. C. J. Giles was Gilas’ original “import” but bombed out because of dysfunctional behavior.

Sampson, who has played for five teams in five NBA seasons, is the next naturalization candidate and Toroman hopes to get him on board as soon as possible.

Eala said Giles was given so many chances to reform but just couldn’t shake off a chronic attitude problem. The final straw was when he invited his youthful teammates to his apartment for a drinking session that lasted until the wee hours. Eala pulled the plug before Giles made things worse for the team with his negative influence.

Besides, Eala wanted to make a strong statement that any player the SBP would recommend to Congress for naturalization had to be “spick and span.” That player couldn’t be Giles who was kicked out of two NCAA Division I schools because of behavioral problems.

Eala said Sampson isn’t like Giles at all. He described him as mature, decent and someone who likes to live a quite life.

Sampson comes from a basketball family. His father Bernard played at San Jose State and his mother Ruth Smith was an import in several European leagues. In fact, Sampson was born in Spain where his mother once played. His first cousin is 7-4 Ralph Sampson who played nine seasons in the NBA.

Sampson isn’t married and has no children.

“I’d like my family to come over and visit,” said Sampson who has a sister Naliah. “If I’m here for a while, it’ll be nice for my family to come. It’s tough living without your family close by.”

Sampson played only a year of college basketball – for the University of California at Berkeley – before turning pro. He was Utah’s second round pick in the 2002 draft and went on to play for Milwaukee, the Los Angeles Lakers, Charlotte, Sacramento and Denver in the NBA. Sampson said he has no regrets leaving school early to pursue a basketball career.

Sampson said playing for the Lakers was his most memorable NBA experience. His L. A. teammates included Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Gary Payton, Karl Malone and Derek Fisher. He wasn’t on the Lakers playoff roster but remained with the team through the Finals where Detroit beat Los Angeles in a five-game series for the title.

Eala said in talking with Sampson, he found out his impressions on several NBA stars. “Jamal told me Kobe likes to be by himself – he’s a bit aloof,” said Eala. “Shaq’s a clown and Carmelo Anthony’s a real nice guy. Jamal has been around all these stars. What we like about Jamal is he comes with no baggage. We hope he’s the real thing. He’s what Gilas needs because he’s a legitimate center.”

Sampson was surprised to learn that former California varsity star Sean Lampley played in the PBA.

“Sean finished playing the year before I joined the team,” said Sampson. “But he would still come over to be with us during my freshman season.” Lampley suited up for Red Bull in 2002 and Barangay Ginebra in 2005-06.

* * * *

Newly-crowned WBC lightflyweight champion Rodel Mayol said Freddie Roach supervised his training at the Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles but it was Jesse Arevalo, an American of Mexican descent, who was in his corner for the fight against Edgar Sosa in Mexico last Nov. 21.

“Freddie was busy with Manny when I was training so Jesse was assigned to work with me,” said Mayol. “When Freddie was free, he still coached me during sparring and we did the mitts.”

Dr. Ed de la Vega, who served as the Filipino’s cutman in the fight, said Sosa couldn’t handle Mayol’s speed and power. Arevalo said Mayol dominated the action from the onset and was clearly the superior fighter.

Mayol said when he receives his WBC championship belt, he plans to return home and visit his estranged parents. Mayol, who has 18 units left before earning an accounting degree at Southwestern University, comes from a broken family. His parents Rodrigo and Leonisa Generalao split up in 1997. His father used to be a tricycle driver and has four children with a second wife. His mother lives in Malolos with two children from her second husband Angel Cruz, a jeepney driver who has died.

In a message to Filipino fighters hoping to become world champions someday, Mayol said: “Don’t lose hope, just keep on training until you achieve your goal in your career with the help of God and prayers.”

Mayol, 28, lives in Los Angeles with his wife Lira who works for a jewelry store and their six-year-old son Eizre Bryce. The couple left their one-year-old son Railan Brent with Mayol’s grandparents in Mandaue.

Sosa will not exercise his option for a rematch with Mayol. He suffered a fractured right cheekbone in losing his WBC crown and underwent surgery to repair the damage. Doctors inserted screws and two titanium plates in Sosa’s cheek. The Mexican will be out of action for at least four months. Sosa said he will figure in one or two tune-up bouts before gunning for the flyweight championship. It was evident in the Mayol fight that Sosa had difficulty making the 108-pound limit.

Sosa claimed the damage on his cheekbone was caused by Mayol’s headbutt in the second round. To make matters worse, Mayol struck the cheek with a left hook that sent Sosa down for an eight-count in the same round. Referee Robert Ramirez halted the massacre as Sosa was pinned against the ropes, defenseless under fire.

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