Averaging 9.5 points and a team-leading 7.6 rebounds per game while starting all of the first 21 contests this season, the inside play of junior transfer Dalayna Sampton has been a critical cog in the success of the UC San Diego women's basketball team. The on and off the court impact of the 6-1 Vallejo native has helped the Tritons to a 17-4 overall record and a two-game lead with five to go in the CCAA regular-season race. Fifth-year head coach Heidi VanDerveer is effusive when the topic is Sampton. "It is great to have Dalayna on our team," said VanDerveer. "She brings an energy that is infectious to everything she does. She is competitive, mature and hard-working. Simply put, she's a very talented player and a wonderful young woman." A sociology major at UCSD's Marshall College, Sampton spent time recently talking about the progress of her team, the move from the University of Hawai'i to UC San Diego, and former Los Angeles Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Q: In one sentence, how would you describe the 2016-17 UC San Diego women's basketball team?
SAMPTON: It is a group of exceptional women looking to clear obstacles to reach their goals.
Q: Where has the team improved the most from the start of the season to now?
SAMPTON: It really comes down to resilience and grit. When we started the season we did not have it, but we do now.
Q: What was the key to your recent 13-game winning streak?
SAMPTON: Simply put, we stopped being okay with losing.
Q: It's been roughly a month since junior point guard Taylor Tanita was lost for the season with a knee injury. Even though she was a three-year starter and clearly the team's floor leader, the team did not seem to miss a beat. Why?
SAMPTON: At the time of her injury we were still gelling, so the mold was not yet complete. I don't feel like we really had a strict way of winning yet. After losing Taylor we had to adjust the mold rather than starting from scratch. There are so many options on this team, so many women who lead in different ways. Our team was definitely shaken after realizing she wouldn't be coming back, but we have always been confident in our abilities to step up to challenges.
Q: You've put up solid numbers so far, with 9.5 points and a team-leading 7.6 rebounds per game. When you're on the floor, what do you consider your primary responsibilities?
SAMPTON: My primary responsibility whenever I am on the floor is to be a great teammate. I don’t care about my stats. I honestly never check them. I want to be the glue for our team—a player who makes the team run better by being on the court. More than anything I want to win, I know this team has so many great components; it is my job as a junior transfer to acknowledge that and be willing to do whatever the team needs of me.
Q: For you, what's the secret to rebounding the ball and scoring inside?
SAMPTON: Confidence. Every time a ball is in my rebounding area, I think it is mine. Every time I get in front of a girl on offense, I know I am going to score or make a pass to a score. Being confident in the post is more than half the battle.
Q: What part of your game would you most like to improve?
SAMPTON: I want to become more of a threat from 15 feet plus. Teams don't guard me out there and it clogs the paint sometimes. I am working to change that.
Q: You transferred to UC San Diego from Hawai'i. What made UC San Diego an attractive landing spot?
SAMPTON: The coaching staff! They are amazing. So willing to make you a better player on the court, but more importantly off the court as a woman. That was the most appealing part of this deal. I also am a student at a top-notch school, one of the best in the nation. My studies are of the utmost importance to me. This school has proven to be the right fit.
Q: How was the transition to a new team? What do you remember most about your first week as a Triton?
SAMPTON: The transition was smooth for the most part. My coaching staff checked in on me regularly and I felt very welcomed. What I remember most about the first week as a Triton was walking through the hallway and seeing Earl Edwards, our athletic director, smiling warmly and asking me, by name, how my day was going. I knew the atmosphere was different here from that moment on. I was part of the Triton family.
Q: How would you define the culture that head coach Heidi VanDerveer tries to develop with her program? What are the differences between Coach VanDerveer and her two assistants, Chelsea Carlisle and Heidi Heintz?
SAMPTON: I would define the culture as honest. I feel like most coaches want to be seen as forthright even when that's not the case, but Coach VanDerveer is exactly who she comes off as and that resonates in our program. We listen and learn the game better because she makes it simple and genuine.
They are all very similar, but Heidi Heintz has a fun level of sarcasm that accompanies her coaching style. She sometimes lightens the mood with a joke, but you still have a great level of respect for her. Chelsea differs from her with the way she can deliver her passion for the game. If we don't get it, Chelsea will get on the floor and show us how it is done. Our coaching staff is trustworthy and dedicated. They feed our willingness to get things done.
Q: Rumor has it you're a pretty good cook. What's your specialty? Are you the best cook on the team? What's your favorite restaurant in San Diego?
SAMPTON: I love to cook (and eat)! My specialty is based on what is available to me, but I make great chicken, juicy and full of flavor. I am definitely top three on the team. We'd have to have a cook off between a few of us to truly determine that title. My favorite restaurant as of now is OB Noodle house, but I look forward to exploring new places.
Q: Is it true you have over 400 pairs of earrings? Do you ever wear the same pair twice in one year?
SAMPTON: I need to recount, but I have been collecting them since middle school so plenty have accumulated. I have my favorites that get worn many times within a year. I could surely go a year without wearing the same pair though if I put in the effort. Some of my earrings are very probably no longer in my age group.
Q: One of your favorite athletes is ex-UCLA and Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. That's kind of an old school choice for someone your age. What's the connection?
SAMPTON: My dad raised me as a huge Laker fan. He just became my favorite player over time, so poised and elegant with his height. He used his body so well and made the game better.
Q: If you were to talk with Abdul-Jabbar, what would you want to ask him?
SAMPTON: I would ask him to help me develop my hook shot! His was the most deadly move in the game.
Q: What do you hope you can say about the 2016-17 Triton women's basketball team when the season is over?
SAMPTON: I hope I can say, "Congratulations, we put UCSD women's basketball on the map as a national powerhouse."
Previous Triton Q&A Features
Milosh Stojcic (Men's Volleyball) January 27, 2017
Chris Hansen (Men's Basketball) December 26, 2016
Cassie MacLeod (Women's Basketball) December 16, 2016
Natalie Tang (Women's Swimming & Diving) November 18, 2016
Nolan Mac (Men's Soccer) October 13, 2016
Scott Acton (Men's Cross Country) October 6, 2016
Marie Paris (Women's Volleyball) September 16, 2016
Kiera Bocchino (Women's Soccer) September 2, 2016
Nick Alexander (Men's Water Polo) August 23, 2016
Karina Carstens (Women's Cross Country) August 8, 2016
Amanda Colla (Women's Volleyball) July 22, 2016
Palano Twins (Men's Soccer) July 13, 2016
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