It doesn’t really seem all that long ago when a young Sonny Weems was flying around the court with the Raptors looking every bit the better of DeMar DeRozan. A fearless driver without much of a jump shot, Weems missed his chance when a wonky back kept him from stealing a starting role in his second season and he was off to greener pastures in Europe the next year.
More than a few superior athletes from this side of the pond have crashed and burned playing international ball. There is no defensive three-second rule and a no blood no foul guideline seems to apply to those reckless enough to drive the lane. Americans looking to succeed in Europe either adapt quickly or get sent home with their tail between their legs.
Surprisingly Weems adapted, discovered a jump shot and became a valued member on one of the top teams in the Euroleague, CSKA Moscow. In four seasons in the Euroleague, the last three with Moscow, Weems averaged 13.4 points on 49.2 percent shooting from two-point range and 36.8 percent from three-point range. Not bad for guy shooting 27.9 percent from three in his last season with the Raptors.
Weems credits going overseas with helping him learn the game and grow up as a man.
“It was a learning experience growing as a man,” Weems told Pro Bball Report. “It helped me learn the game of basketball also. It helped me learn how to play, not just be a full court guy, but learn how to play in the half court. Learn how to read defenses. It was a great experience these four years, it helped me a lot, especially on the basketball court.
“I had too, especially in Europe you have to learn how to shoot the basketball cause no three seconds so you got guys standing – three or four guys – just standing in the lane so you can’t penetrate all the time. You have to learn how to expand your game beyond the mid-range game. You got to shoot the three-ball and that’s what I really exceeded at over there.
“They don’t call fouls over there. They don’t call a lot of fouls and the referees aren’t that good, so that’s the main reason they don’t call a lot of fouls cause they aren’t that good.”
It wasn’t easy. It isn’t easy for anyone coming from North America to adapt to playing overseas. You have to want to adapt, be willing to change to new rules and another style of play. Weems made a point of not fighting it. He was going to fit in.
“You have to be willing to (adapt) when you are over there,” Weems said. “Most guys don’t want to accept that they are over there and that’s the biggest challenge that I had to deal with was accepting that I’m over here, now I have to make the best of it and that’s what separated me from most of the American guys that was over there. I made the best of it. I kind of realized that I was over there, that was my home over there, so that was what really helped me out.”
Weems fit in and was doing well. The pay was good. The team was good. He had a big role. So why come back to be a veteran role player in the NBA?
“Things are changing (in the NBA),” Weems explained. “A new collective bargaining agreement. I can always still go back, Europe is always there for me. I can always go back and play over there, but I wanted to try and finish my career here.
“I feel young. I can still run up and down the floor. I can still move around like I’m 24, 25. I didn’t have a lot of injuries, so my body is feeling great. I kind of see myself as a young guy. Age tells me different (29), but I still feel I play young.
“I think those European days (shorter schedule) they really helped my career out a lot.”
That European option really is open to Weems. He was an impact player in Moscow and he liked it there in the New York of Russia. It wouldn’t take much for him to land another Euroleague job.
“I call it the New York City of Europe and Russia,” Weems explained. “It’s just like New York City, fast-paced, a lot of condo living, traffic, a lot of different cultures, different foods, diversity, it’s just like New York. The city is lite-up. You can find anything you want over there. I actually liked it over there. Sometimes I miss it, but I wouldn’t go back.”
Weems signed a two-year deal as a veteran role player with the Phoenix Suns this past summer, however, the second season isn’t guaranteed until July 11, 2016 which makes him a potential trade asset. With their season unexpectedly imploding, the Suns should be more interested in future oriented assets now.
In limited minutes Weems has been shooting 46.2 percent from three for Phoenix and the 29-year-old just might be the low risk hired gun a playoff bound team might look at to bolster their roster. Maybe even Toronto?