2012 was a banner year for the Madison Prep boys basketball team. Led by McDonald’s High School All-American Jarell Martin, the Chargers lost just three times, capping the run with a 53-37 win over Simsboro for the Class B state championship.
But the upcoming season will be much different for coach Jeff Jones: Madison Prep is moving to Class 1A, and Martin and Chad Williams graduated, leaving a void in production and leadership.
“Other than when it came to playing in district, we played above Class B the entire year,” Jones said. “We had a pretty tough schedule last year, but this one might be even tougher. And we have to replace quite a few quality players and need guys to step up.”
Enter junior guard Brandon Sampson.
Last season, as Martin received all of the attention — both from fans and opposing teams’ defensive schemes — Sampson took advantage and became a secondary scoring option for the Chargers. He averaged 16.3 points and joined Martin as first-team all-state selections.
“I’m expecting to put the team on my back this year,” Sampson said. “I want to be a leader and take over the role that Jarell had.”
It’s a role Jones believes Sampson could flourish in.
“The biggest thing that I expect out of Brandon is for him to be the best that he can be,” Jones said. “He needs to come out and lead the team — kind of like the way Jarell did, but understand who he is as well.”
Seeing the potential of the 6-foot-4 standout from the beginning, Jones made sure Sampson and Martin spent a lot of time together. The result turned out better than he could have hoped for, with Sampson and Martin forming a strong bond on and off the court.
“Jarell always made others around him better,” Jones said. “With a guy like Brandon, who was already talented, having him around Jarell really pushed him.”
Sampson found motivation in seeing Martin, who has the physical features of a forward and the ball-handling skills and shooting touch of a guard, was the hardest worker on the floor despite having the most talent.
“Jarell was always the first one in the weight room and the last one out,” he said. “He always put in the most work. Us as younger guys always saw that and realized it takes more than just raw skill to become a truly great player. He was like a big brother to me, and he motivated me to be the best that I can be.”
But Sampson is a special player in his own right and, with Martin off to LSU, the opportunity to step forward is there. He gave the Chargers a taste of what he could do in the state championship game, when he led all scorers with 16 points.
“I’m looking forward to having other teams focusing on me, because it will make me better,” he said. “It’s going to be tough, but I think I can handle it. I’m ready for whatever they throw at me.”
To fulfill his potential, Sampson has spent much of his time in the gym, specifically to work on his on-ball defense and shooting off the dribble. He made a home in the weight room as well and has added 8 pounds of muscle to fill out his frame.
Biology also played a part this summer: Sampson grew a half-inch, which will allow him to see more time playing in the low post if the situation calls for it.
“I’ll go up against big men and won’t be afraid to post up,” he said. “If coach asks me to play down there, I’ll do it.”
Despite having only one full year of varsity experience, Sampson already has put himself on the radar of many Division I colleges, landing scholarship offers from Alabama, Baylor, Georgetown and LSU. It’s well down the line, but the opportunity is there for Sampson to rejoin Martin in college.
“That would be a lot of fun,” he said. “I haven’t really thought about it that much because I still have a lot of work to do at Madison Prep.”