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Names In The Game

April 2, 1992

ATLANTA (AP) _ Hammerin’ Hank is back.

A bronze statue of former Atlanta Braves slugger Hank Aaron was returned to its place in front of the stadium where he set the all-time home run record 18 years ago.

The statue, showing a bat-clutching Aaron in mid-swing, was broken six months ago during a wild celebration of the Braves’ National League West championship. An overzealous fan made off with the bat.

Workers on Wednesday returned the statue to its spot outside Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, where Aaron hit his 715th home run in April 1974.

This time, sculptor Ed Dwight reinforced the statue’s arms and bat with steel rods to help it withstand any future assaults.

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - Ralph Sampson was the biggest name ever to hit Spanish basketball, but his team apparently decided it could do without him.

Sampson, hoping to work himself into shape for another shot at the NBA, was cut by Unicaja Ronda of Malaga. He is one of several Americans who will be missing from the Spanish League playoffs this weekend.

Ben Coleman was released by FC Barcelona after leading the team to the quarterfinals of the European Cup, and forward Harold Pressley will be on the sidelines for Joventut of Badalona after suffering a hand injury.

Sampson, the first No. 1 overall NBA draft pick ever to play in Europe, signed with Unicaja Jan. 9 for $225,000 for the rest of the season. But the club cut Sampson after he averaged just 7.1 points and 6.8 rebounds in eight games.

The knee injuries that wrecked Sampson’s NBA career also took a toll here. He made just 29 percent of his shots and was actually held scoreless against Caja San Fernando on Jan. 18. The media quickly went after him - one newspaper called him a ″fraud″.

″It was apparent almost immediately that Ralph Sampson was physically unable to perform,″ coach Jose Martin Urbano said. ″I do not question his desire, but his body was not able to respond.″

Sampson recently said he always expected the transition from the NBA to foreign ball to be rough.

″My thing is to come over here and get my game back,″ he said. ″Any time you go to a foreign country, there’s going to be a whole lot of adjustments to make. That’s what I’m doing now - I’m trying to live like (the Spanish) live. It’s not easy.″

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky basketball fans can breathe a sigh of relief. New Jersey high school star Rodrick Rhodes is academically eligible.

Rhodes, the 6-foot-7 prep All-American from Jersey City, N.J., scored better than the NCAA minimum of 700 on his latest attempt at the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

″We’re all fired up,″ said St. Anthony High School coach Bob Hurley, who this weekend will be watching his son Bobby lead Duke’s defense of the national championship. ″We’ve been on the edge of our seats for two weeks, waiting for the score.

″We’re thrilled for Rod, because now he can go to Kentucky and play his first year and get on with his education.″

Because Rhodes is eligible, Kentucky gets another bonus because 6-9 Walter McCarty of Evansville, Ind. will also be able to begin classes.

McCarty is an academic non-qualifier who will not be eligible to play next season. The Southeastern Conference allows only one non-qualifier in basketball each year to sit out.

McCarty can join the team his sophomore year and have three years of eligibility.

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CALZADA DE OROPESA, Spain (AP) - Juan ″Juanito″ Gomez Gonzalez, the temperamental soccer star who played 16 seasons for Real Madrid and other Division I squads, died in a car crash early Thursday. He was 37.

Gomez Gonzalez was en route from Madrid to Merida, where he coached a Division II team, when the car he was in swerved to avoid some logs and crashed into another vehicle, Spanish National Radio reported.

The driver, Merida trainer Manuel Jimenez, and player Francisco Javier Gonzalez Echevarria were treated at a hospital.

They had been at Wednesday night’s UEFA Cup match in which Juanito’s old club Real Madrid defeated Torino 2-1.

″He was a controversial but very well loved person,″ former Real Madrid teammate Pablo Porta said.

Gomez Gonzalez played for Spain’s national team in the 1978 and 1982.

Real Madrid won four league championships when he was with the team.

A fiery temper, however, marred his career. He was twice suspended from international competition, once after he stepped on the face of a fallen German player during the 1986-87 season.

He retired as a player in 1989.

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