Never on Saturday Seven-footer Sam Randolph prays--but won't play--on his Sabbath

March 09, 1998

Has Sam Randolph tasted sin? Has he licked lips with the devil?
You be the judge. Randolph, who is 7 feet tall, believes that
God is watching over him. For a practicing Seventh-Day
Adventist, this means no keg parties. No premarital sex. It also
means no work from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
Seriously, none.

Three years ago recruiters started popping up at Takoma Academy
in Takoma Park, Md., asking how badly Randolph wanted to play
big-time college basketball. This was his ticket. The NBA likes
its players tall. The NBA's average salary is more than $2
million per year. Sam, would you like to be in the NBA? Would
you? Could you?

Strangely--in a world where people say "Thou shall not kill,"
and then kill--Randolph licked lips with the devil and didn't
particularly like the taste. "Temptation," he says, "is really a
test. And believe me, I've been tempted as much as anyone."

Big-time college basketball would be great, but it would also be
on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons. Colorado State's
coaches said schedules could be adjusted; other coaches said
that if all else failed, the big guy could take the day off. But
Sam Randolph, he of the 4.0 GPA and the medical-school
aspirations, knows coaches on the recruiting trail will say just
about anything.

Hence he made his choice, and his choice--more or less--was God.
As a junior at Columbia Union College, a 1,200-student
Seventh-Day Adventist school right down the street from Takoma
Academy, Randolph toils in comfortable anonymity, averaging 20.8
points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocks for the Division II
Pioneers. (At 5-22, Columbia Union is awful, but at least it's
awful only six days a week.) The gymnasium he plays in is less
than an hour from Georgetown University, but in basketball
geography it is Guam. So calling Randolph one of the most
obscure 7-footers in the history of college basketball is no
stretch.

Marty Blake, the dean of hoops scouting, has never heard of
Randolph. "But Sam has an NBA future," says Rick Murray, the
Columbia Union coach and athletic director. "You look at him
now, and he's not far from what Luc Longley was when he entered
the league. I've had eight or nine agents call. Give Sam one
more season, and I really think he could be unstoppable."

Randolph, despite only one year of serious high school
competition and extremely raw skills, is more than just a big
goon who boxes out. Through six camps and two summers of playing
against Patrick Ewing, Othella Harrington, Alonzo Mourning and
Dikembe Mutombo at Georgetown, he has developed something of a
presence. He does not yet rebound or block shots well, but
around the basket his collection of spins, dips, ducks and
turnarounds is something out of Kevin McHale 101. And at 250
pounds, he has a bona fide NBA body.

More important, he's smart. He's a voracious reader. He's also
an accomplished pianist who plays with the New England Youth
Ensemble. He has mastered the first two movements of
Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto and is learning the third.
He is comfortable in sports because he knows he can excel in
other endeavors.

That doesn't mean Randolph hasn't worked hard on his game. Upon
coming to Columbia Union three years ago, he had the footwork of
a golf club. Then he started paying attention to NBA games,
watching not just for pleasure but also for enlightenment. Look
how Alonzo Mourning dips his shoulder. See the way Shaquille
O'Neal bobs, then spins. The way David Robinson defends the post.

Yet this is not really the story of a kid chasing his NBA
dreams. Sure, Randolph has them from time to time, but Adventism
encourages missionary assignments for its members, and sees
little value in competitive sports.

Before picking up a basketball for the first time, Randolph had
dreams of becoming a doctor. If he doesn't get a shot at the NBA
or at European pro ball, he hopes to study medicine at Loma
Linda University, an Adventist school in California. "I'm O.K.
with not making a career of basketball," he says. "I mean, it
would be great. But I have higher aspirations."

COLOR PHOTO: PATRICK MURPHY-RACEY At 5-22, Randolph's Columbia Union team is awful, but at least it's awful only six days a week [Sam Randolph dunking basketball]
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