SACRAMENTO -- JaKarr Sampson isn’t used to the media storming his locker following a win. The 24-year-old has driven back and forth between Sacramento and Reno all season long as a two-way player. It’s not glamorous, but he’s always a phone call away from the show.
Monday night at Golden 1 Center, he was a difference maker in the Kings 104-98 win over the Chicago Bulls. It’s not the first time he’s come up big for Sacramento and it probably won’t be the last.
“That’s what he does,” De’Aaron Fox said. “Every time he’s come up - I wanna say that first road trip when we played in Cleveland, he guarded LeBron (James) - he’s just disruptive. He grabs rebounds, he plays defense, he’s active on the offensive glass - it’s what he does and that’s the reason that he plays.”
With his team completely dead in the water against the Bulls, Dave Joerger turned to Sampson in hopes of finding a spark. The St. John’s University product instantly changed the energy level on the court, helping Sacramento climb out of a 21-point first half deficit.
“He’s awesome as far as what he brings to the part,” Joerger said. “6’-8” lively body, diving as far as from the perimeter, slashing and trying to get to the glass.”
The numbers don’t jump off the page - nine-points, six-rebounds and a block in 18 minutes of action. But he completely changed the momentum of a game with his hustle.
“It just feels good just being out there and playing in front of these fans,” Sampson said with a huge smile. “They bring the juice and get me juiced up and do what I do best and pass it along to my teammates.”
Sampson loves to energize the crowd with a dunk. He hit the Bulls with a baseline hammer in the second quarter to help draw the Kings within 10. Two minutes later, Chicago’s Zach LaVine got him back on the other.
“You’ve got to - that’s the ballgame, especially for someone who plays defense the way I play it and is gonna challenge any shot,” Sampson said following the game. “I don’t care about getting dunked on, I just care about making a right play and sacrificing my body for the team.”
LaVine put Sampson on a poster, but that’s the way the fourth-year forward plays. You don’t get any free passes around him. He’s always ready to challenge, even when there is little hope of stopping someone.
With the Kings off for the next three days, the plan is for Sampson to head back to the Reno Bighorns on Tuesday. Joerger joked that he might have to change his travel plans, but with only 45 days to use Sampson with the parent club, the Kings have to be judicious with when they call him to Sacramento.
If nothing else, Sampson has earned a long look with an NBA team next season, be it in Sacramento or elsewhere. He has the body to compete and the versatility to play either forward positions. He also brings his lunch pail and a huge smile to work every day.