I can vividly remember Sonny Weems effortlessly gliding through the air to throw down a half court ally-oop from Gary Ervin in what was then Alltel Arena. The game, though was a bit more forgettable, as Arkansas wound up losing to Appalachian State.
He’s a natural athlete, and always has been. Even before going to college at UA-Fort Smith and winning a JUCO national title, he starred in basketball at West Memphis as well as track. Many may not know the 6-foot-6 guard high jumped 6-10. Simply, he was a winner. He won 68 of 78 games in high school, then, in two years at UAFS went 62-7.
He was very highly touted coming out of junior college and, as we know, signed with Arkansas and played under both Stan Heath and John Pelphrey. And thanks to my job at the Times Record in Fort Smith, I was able to sit down with Weems for about 20 minutes to talk about his UAFS career and also pick his brain a little on some Razorbacks-related topics.
Transition from JUCO to D1
As I mentioned earlier, Weems had a lot of success at UAFS. His freshman year, the Lions went 33-3. The program's second national title came the next year. Here’s what he had to say on making the move north to Fayetteville:
I don’t think it was much of a transition. It was more getting used to my teammates. When I went there those guys had Steven Hill, Ronnie Brewer, Gary Ervin and Charles Thomas all on the team. The biggest adjustment part for me was getting those guys to welcome me in. Once I got up there and they saw my personality, they started being around me and (saw I was) a good teammate it was kind of an easy thing. They were going on their third year, so I kind of understood the seniority thing. But once I got there, got into practice those guys loved me just the same.
Advice for incoming junior college players
Weems, if you remember, was the top rated junior college player in the nation – per Rivals – the year he signed with the Razorbacks. And thinking about the JUCO class Arkansas is bringing in for 2016, I asked him what kind of advice he would give Jaylen Barford, Arlando Cook and Daryl Macon, who are expected to come in and play well immediately.
Just be you, and work hard. A lot of JUCO guys don’t get a chance to play professional or be on the level as an Arkansas, so they don’t really know coming in how good those fans are and how well-treated they are on campus. Especially being an African American athlete from wherever they’re from, take advantage of that and get your education. Try to get the best out of it because that school is awesome. I can only imagine what it’s like now; I haven’t been back in a while. Just work hard. Everything is there for you. Coming into college coming where we come from, you’ve got everything. Just take advantage of it. That’s one thing I wish I would have did back then. Take advantage of all the resources, coaches, trainers, everything.
2008 NCAA Tournament vs. Indiana
When I asked Sonny about this game, a smile immediately followed. He had a lot of reason to smile, too. He lit up the Hoosiers for a career-high 31 points and showed up Eric Gordon, the eventual seventh overall pick in the 2008 draft. Weems had it all going that day and pushed Arkansas into the second round for the first time in nearly a decade.
(I just remember) all the emotion. I think that was the first time Arkansas had made the second round (since ‘99). That was kind of a big milestone for us. I wasn’t really pumped up much during the season, but that game right there… I had 31 points. Killed them. That game there I think I can say really helped my draft status. I could have went first round but, you know, politics. That was a great game for us. They really lowballed us giving us North Carolina in North Carolina (laughs).
Sonny was a great interview. I could have talked to him a lot longer about a number of different things. He was full of stories. He’s also preparing to head back overseas for a couple more years to play for a very successful and prestigious team based in Israel. When I asked him about another possible run at the NBA, he didn’t rule it out. Being 29 and fully able to get up and down the court, he’s going to ride out basketball until his three-year-old daughter tells him to hang it up. Still wish it would’ve worked out for him in Phoenix.