Brandon Sampson thought he had it all figured out.
The Madison Prep guard was convinced he would be part of three state championship teams.
When the Chargers lost to Metairie Park Country Day in the Class 1A final in 2014, Sampson had to change his thinking. More importantly, the 6-foot-5 senior changed his game and his approach to it.
“I was the face of the team my junior year, but I was uncomfortable with it,” Sampson said. “This year, I wanted that role. I talked to (former MPA star Jarell Martin) and coach (Jeff) Jones about how to do it. I had to come up big, meaning I had to give the team whatever they needed. I had to be a facilitator. I had to have the best attitude. I had to lead by example. I had to set the stage for the younger guys.”
Sampson achieved all of his goals while leading Madison Prep to the Class 1A title last month. Now there’s some lagniappe for Louisiana’s top senior prospect: the Louisiana Sports Writers Association’s Farm Bureau/Mr. Basketball award.
It’s the second time in three years that a Madison Prep player has won the LSWA’s top boys basketball award. Martin, the former LSU standout who declared for the NBA draft last month, won it in 2013. That’s when Martin and Sampson helped the Chargers to the Class B state title.
“This is a great honor for him. … Brandon stepped up big for us,” Jones said. “The biggest thing he improved on was toughness. He had gotten by so long on just his talent. This year, he was tougher and very unselfish.
“That loss (to Country Day) really hurt him. When he was a sophomore, Brandon always talked about winning three (championship) rings. Last year, he didn’t realize everything it took to be a leader. This year, he did, and he took that role very seriously.”
Sampson didn’t have the gaudy numbers other top players did. He averaged 15.9 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists as part of a balanced attack.
The only thing missing for Sampson now is a college destination. He committed to St. John’s a few months ago but reopened his recruitment when the Red Storm fired coach Steve Lavin. Sampson said he doesn’t not plan to sign until the end of the NCAA signing period that begins this week.
A visit with new St. John’s coach Chris Mullin is planned for the days ahead. Legendary coach Larry Brown of SMU has visited Sampson, and he has a visit set with the Mustangs next weekend.
Alabama and its new head coach, former Southern star and NBA player Avery Johnson, is now in the mix. Johnson is set to visit the Madison Prep campus within the next two weeks, Jones said.
Oklahoma State also has jumped into the picture; OSU assistant Butch Pierre is a Louisiana native and former LSU assistant. LSU remains on the list, but Sampson’s desire to play as a freshman would make it difficult for him to join the guard-wealthy Tigers.
“He’s not just a guy who can shoot from outside or drive to the basket,” Southern Lab coach Devan Clark said. “He does both. You could tell he was willing to sacrifice scoring to make the team better. You could tell he was the leader. He’s versatile, and that’s going to serve him well on the college level.”
Sampson routinely made optional summer-league games and workouts even when he returned late at night from summer showcases and AAU tournaments.
“I just wanted to stay in the gym longer than everyone else,” Sampson said. “When everybody was still sleeping, I got to the gym. In the summer, I’d get in the gym at 5 a.m. After practice, I’d either stay in the gym or go to another one.”
Other coaches see a bright future for Sampson, who led the Chargers to a 35-1 record this year. MPA’s lone loss was to Mississippi power Calloway.
“He’s a scorer,” University’s Joe Spencer said. “It’s not just that he can shoot 3-pointers; he’s got range. And if you step out to defend, he’ll take you to the rim and finish.”
Added Brusly coach Harold Boudreaux, a former LSU player: “He’s got a high basketball IQ. He’s got some work to do to get physically stronger. I can definitely see him being successful at the next level.”
For now, Sampson has what he needs.
“Going out on top with a state title,” he said, “is a big momentum boost going into college.”