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It’s Always Sonny in Guangdong: A Former Hog Shines in The People’s Republic

Out of all the major sports, basketball must be the most difficult to reach at a professional level. A mid-tier pitching prospect playing AA ball may luck their way into a big-league start after a team suffers injuries or decides to rest its starters. You can be an undrafted free agent in the NFL and still get the chance at one play on special teams. Hell you hear about accountants and Zamboni drivers having to suit up as emergency goalies for NHL teams. You get my point.

But purely from a number’s standpoint, basketball is by far the most difficult. You can set every record at your high school, be regarded as one of the best players in your university’s history and still never step on the court professionally. Look at Bobby Portis. He has proved himself and is still struggling to earn the playing time he deserves.

So, what happens to the players that do fade out? That never quite make it professionally. Well if you’re Sonny Weems, you go crush it in China.

Sonny Weems is one of my favorite Hogs to ever put on Razorback Red. Maybe it was the era of his career. Back when things were simple, and gas was $3.75. Or that he led the Hogs to their first tourney win in nine years after putting up 31 points against Eric Gordon and Indiana.

In his senior season Weems was named First Team All-SEC averaging 15.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. He capped off his college career by winning the college dunk competition.

Weems was drafted 39th overall in the second round of the 2008 NBA draft by Chicago before being immediately traded to the Nuggets. Weems spent one year with Denver and then headed to Toronto for two seasons with the Raptors.

After little playing time, Weems decided to go play overseas and wait out his chance for another shot at the NBA. After 2 seasons in Lithuania and Moscow, the Phoenix Suns offered Sonny a two-year deal before the start of the 2015 season. However, low production led to the Suns waiving Weems on March 5th. He was claimed off waiver by the 76ers two days later only to be waived again the following day.

I can’t speak for Sonny, but this had to be the low point of his career. Almost 30 years old and riddled by injuries, it was looking like this was a sad end to a long but adventurous career.

Deciding to give it one last shot, Weems laced them up for the Zhejiang Golden Bulls of the Chinese Basketball Association. Whether they called him or he called them is unknown. The CBA is basically international waters. I don’t think they even have contracts. I just know they sell beer for like 75 cents and you could probably shoot free throws for someone if you asked.

This proved to be a very fortuitous decision. In 38 games, Weems put up 31.7 points, 8 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game. But he had only had a taste of Chinese Basketball Association success.

After receiving a rather generous offer from a team in Turkey, Weems spent two more seasons in Europe before returning to China in 2018. But this time, he would be suiting up for the Guangdong Southern Tigers.

For those unfamiliar with the CBA, the Guangdong Southern Tigers are basically the Yankees of the Chinese Basketball Association. With a CBA record of 11 championships, they are coached by Du Feng. A 7-time CBA champion who spent his entire 14-year career with the Southern Tigers.

Kobe and Phil. Duncan and Popovich. Feng and Weems. Coach Du knew how to bring the best out in Sonny. Helping conserve his playing time, the 31-year-old averaged 23 points in only 33 minutes played per game. By balancing the team out, Weems was able to help the Tigers play more efficiently.

In his first season with Guangdong he helped propel the Tigers their 9th league title as more of a role player. While his stats took a backseat, Weems proved to be the perfect one-two punch to go along with CBA All Star, Yi Jianlian.

The following season, Weems was no longer just a piece of the puzzle as he singlehandedly took the Tigers to their 10th league title. Weems averaged 34.7 points in the best-of-three series final and was named Finals MVP.

Looking to win their third title in a row and 11th overall, an aging Weems and the Tigers began the 2021 campaign. Without stars Marshon Brooks and Yi Jianlian in the decisive game 3 of the finals, Weems saved his best for last. Weems, now 34, scored 29 points to go along with 10 rebounds and 8 assists to help the depleted Tigers to another historic title.

So what now? Some NBA players call it quits once reaching ‘x’ amount of titles or scoring a certain number of points. What motivates Sonny? Similar to LeBron and Jordan, Weems has his own goal.

Stephon Marbury is the Michael Jordan of the CBA. He helped pave the way for American players and will go down as a major contributor to helping spread the game globally. How many titles does Marbury have? He has three titles.

Weems wants one more.

In an interview with Xinhaunet Weems stated, “I have all the respect for Stephon Marbury because he was one of the first international players that came over here and was really successful and he paved the way for players like me,” said Weems. “He has three championships. And my goal is to get four. And once I get four, I’ll be considered the best American player to ever play in the CBA. And that is my goal.”

Ever wonder what happened to so-and-so who used to play for the Hogs? Look it up, they might just be a champion on the other side of the world.

-BCG