OKLAHOMA CITY, OK — The Duke Blue Devils may be the last team from North Carolina alive in the NCAA Tournament, but a small town in Robeson County is pulling hard for the Oklahoma Sooners. The road to the Final Four may run right through Pembroke.
Kelvin Sampson, the hard-driving head coach at Oklahoma, was born in Pembroke, N.C. It was at Pembroke High where Kelvin learned the game playing for his father, coach Ned Sampson.
"He's worked hard, and I've always believed if you work hard, good things happen for you," Ned said.
That belief is also held by Kelvin's son, Kellen.
"The very principle of how they live their life was hatched in Pembroke. It was nurtured in Pembroke. It was built in Pembroke," Kellen Sampson said.
"You have to work hard if you're going to get ahead," Ned Sampson said. "He played similarly to how his team plays, really hard."
But during the Sooners' tournament run in 2001, Sampson's father collapsed and needed emergency brain surgery. One year later, the elder Sampson is fully recovered and making a recruiting pitch to his grandson and it is not to Oklahoma.
"He's put the bug in my ear ever since I could walk," Kellen Sampson said. "You've got to keep the tradition alive. That's what he's always doing, trying to keep the tradition alive of how you've got to be the next Sampson in line to go to UNC-P."
Despite his grandfather's best recruiting pitch, Kellen said that he will probably walk-on at Oklahoma next year to play for his father. The Sooners play the Butler Bulldogs in the next round of the NCAA Tournament Friday in Albany, N.Y.