Thursday, April 1, 2010

Sonny Weems Is No Joke

While you're dodging April Fools jokes left and right today, let's take a closer look at the one Raptor that has been a surprise of the pleasant variety. His name is Sonny Weems (real name is Clarence - but don't tell him that), the 23 year old starting shooting guard for the Toronto Raptors.

Born out of Arkansas, Weems was the typical super athlete growing up. Excelling at football and track and field - especially high jump where he manaed to clear 6'10 - there was little doubt that Sonny was born with God given athleticism and talents. Shooting up to a respectable height that complimented his play style, his athleticism ended up translating quite well onto the basketball court. As a senior, he ended up leading West Memphis High School to a state championship. The 20 points and 14 rebounds he averaged was good enough to have him recognized as one of the best high school players in the Nation.

The early success didn't end there however. After high school, Sonny attended the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith where he eventually was thought to be the #1 junior college player in the entire country. Soon after, Weems declared his commitment to the University of Arkansas through a transfer. In 06/07, he was actually listed as the #1 junior college transfer in the nation by In his junior year, he played a noteworthy role (11 pts a game) that led to the Razorbacks' 3rd straight winning season. Unfortunately, the party ended abruptly in a first round knockout in the NCCA tournament.

In Weems' final year at Arkansas, the high flying guard made it his mission to go out with a bang. Earning his spot on the first team All-SEC, Weems led Arkansas all the way to the NCAA tournament once again; where they would ultimately ruin a couple of brackets all over the world with an upset win over Indiana. The 31 points he scored (on 12-14 shooting) gave the Razorbacks their first NCAA tournament win in 9 years. He followed that up with a 22 point performance in the next round, but unfortunately could not overcome a beastly UNC squad. Wanting to end his collegiate career on his terms however, Sonny topped the experience off with an entertaining win in the NCAA Slam Dunk Contest.

Many scouts expected Weems to play in the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in an attempt to raise his stock prior to the draft. However, he ultimately decided to skip out and instead opted to workout for several NBA franchises. Already 21 years old and running out of time on his NBA dreams, Weems pushed as hard as he could in order to impress somebody, anybody. Even in the days leading up to the draft, Weems was projected to go somewhere in the low to mid 50s; to possibly not even being drafted. All he wanted to do was for some team to give him a chance.

Fortunately, that chance came - but not in the way Sonny had been playing it out in his head ever since he was a kid.

Selected with the 39th pick of the 2008 NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls, Weems wasn't even given a chance to smile. Immediately, he was traded away to Denver for scrap (2nd rounder). Already considered a fringe player, consistent and nagging injuries glued Sonny to the Nuggets bench. Eventually, the franchise sent him down to the D-League.

Playing for the Colarado 14ers, Sonny Weems put up 18 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.3 assists a game; a stat line very similar to something he'd put up in college. Yet regardless of his steady production and seemingly translatable game, the Nuggets still refused to put Weems on the court. His time soon ran out in Denver, and the team traded him for next to nothing to the Bucks (Malik Allen who's averaging 2.3 points, and 1.6 rebounds this year).

Ten days later - that's right, ten days... - Sonny Weems was traded once again. But this time, it was to the Toronto Raptors. Used as nothing more than a filler, he and Amir Johnson were sent to Canada in exchange for Carlos Delfino and Roko Ukic. Considered merely an afterthought in the grand scheme of things, many fans expected and even preferred Weems to be wearing a suit every game. With their young lottery pick rookie DeMar DeRozan, prized free agent Hedo Turkoglu, veteran wing defender Antoine Wright, and fellow Italian countryman to Bargs in Marco Belinelli; Sonny Weems found himself in a particularly crowded field.

But just like always, Weems fought through it all. Always being noted to be one of the hardest working players by the coaching staff, the 23 year old athletic wingman put in the time to make his case for head coach Jay Triano. The message was heard loud and clear: "I deserve to be here."

Fast forward to today, and with the playoffs just on the horizon, Sonny Weems now finds himself as the starting 2 guard for the Toronto Raptors - a team bound for the post-season. Peaking at the absolute right time, Sonny is putting up career numbers in the month of March and appears to have the starting gig locked for the rest of the year. He gives this Toronto team an aspect and element that this franchise has lacked for years now, and that's athleticism on the wings.

The best part is that:

1) He's basically a rookie. Recording practically no minutes in his rookie year, this is in a sense, his first season that he's been given a chance to play. At the age of 23, he's got plenty of time to grow.


2) Weems is earning the minimum in regards to salary. The Raptors can either choose to use their team option on him next year, or just outright extend Weems. Either way, Toronto will end up with very good production per salary. Amazing bang for your buck? I think so.

What does the future have in store for Sonny Weems? No one knows for sure, though Raptors fans can only hope it involves them. It was only two years ago that I remember first seeing him. He was assisting J.R. Smith in the Dunk Contest, and commentators Reggie Miller and Kenny Smith took no liberties in making jokes at Weems' expense. But in their defense, what they didn't realize at the time is that Sonny Weems is no joke. There's a hidden gold mine of potential somewhere there that the Denver Nuggets couldn't find; and all it took was a Raptors jersey for Weems to realize that.

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