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We Were North: Sonny Weems and His Journey

Let’s look back at some old Raptor friends and ask: where are they now?

Toronto Raptors v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Clarence Weems was born in West Memphis, Arkansas, a tiny town known for NBA players (Corey Brewer and 1988 rebounding champ Michael Cage), Sid Vicious, and locking up kids for killing other kids with no evidence whatsoever (please watch the Paradise Lost series of films, please).

For Clarence — 'Sonny' to his friends — growing up in West Memphis was a painful experience. He was born with cleft feet, which meant there was a possibility he may never walk, let alone run. Years of torturous corrective shoes were able to right the problem, and once he found his stride Weems discovered that not only could he walk, he could jump.

At West Memphis High School the kid with the busted feet set records in the high-jump and long-jump. He also terrorized opposing schools on the court. After high school Weems attended the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith. Weems, playing on the wing, lead the UAFS Lions to back-to-back Bi-State Conference Eastern Division titles in 2004 and 2005. He transferred to the University of Arkansas the following year.

As a junior with the Razorbacks Weems played an important, though not starring role, in back-to-back winning seasons and NCAA tournament appearances. In 2008 he also won the College Slam Dunk Championship — pretty good for someone who was born with feet too painful to even stand on for long periods of time.

In 2008 Weems, who had spent his entire life in Arkansas (which has the second lowest median family income of all US states), declared eligibility for the NBA draft. The 6'6" swingman worked out for about a dozen teams, and scouts lauded his speed and agility (again testament to Weems' triumph over his once crippling disability).

Draft night was topsy-turvy for Weems, who was picked by the Chicago Bulls with their 39th pick, then flipped to the Denver Nuggets in a three team trade which saw the Bulls net Omer Asik from Portland (who had drafted the Turk with their 36th pick). On acquiring Weems, Nuggets VP Mark Warkentien said to DenverNuggets.com, "You look at J.R. Smith, Linas Kleiza, Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony —high octane scorers. And then there's a niche, whether it's for Sonny or somebody else, for dirty dog, run the floor, defender, wing-type guys... he will be in that mix."

Warkentien's comments pretty much sum up why Weems didn't make much of a home in the mile-high city. As you can see, the Nuggets' were pretty stacked back then, and certainly weren't in desperate need of an athletic wing who could drive to the basket — which would prove to be Weems' strength. Though he was afx functional defender, Weems wouldn't live up to Warkentien's expectations and he wasn't equipped to handle big minutes on a championship chasing team.

Weems only played 12 games for Denver between 2008 and 2009. He spent much of that time in the D-League with the Colorado 14ers. There he showed that, even if he wasn't NBA ready, he was certainly better than the D-League. Weems' pro-ball limbo wouldn't last long, though. In 2009 he was sent, along with Walter Sharpe and a bag of money, to the Milwaukee Bucks for Malik Allen. 18 days later Brian Colangelo pulled off a trade that would shape the Toronto Raptors for the next five years.

After his cup of coffee in Wisconsin Weems came north, along with a guy named Amir Johnson, in exchange for Carlos Defino and Roko Ukic. A rare win for Colangelo on the trading table.

With Weems and Johnson, a little bit of magic came to town. Nothing like what came with Vasquez, Patterson, Salmons, and Gray out of Sac-Town, but still — something special happened. When Weems and Johnson hooked up with the recently drafted DeMar DeRozan there was enough chemistry to make even a pre-radiation poisoning Marie Curie happy.

The bond that appeared to exist between Weems, Johnson, and DeRozan (and to a lesser extent the incoming Ed Davis) reminded me of watching Saved by the Bell, Hang Time, and countless other 90s shows that I'm embarrassed to admit watching [cough, cough] USA High. They looked like a group of friends, real friends, who would actually do stuff for each other if, you know, they needed it. I didn't really have that, so watching it always felt special. And watching it on the court, combining for dunks, hell, that was awesome.

The group was dubbed the 'Young Guns' (or 'Young Gunz') by fans and their game-time interactions were often the bright spots of otherwise depressing matches, which more often than not ended in lopsided losses. MLSE got in on the action soon after and labelled their youthful and exciting core as the 'Young Ones' or (or 'Young Onez'), which never really caught onz.

The good vibes seemed to work for Weems. He played his best NBA ball in Toronto between 2009 and 2011. In the 2010-11 season he started 28 games and averaged almost 10 ppg. However, his best, was far from excellent. Despite being capable of a highlight reel play, or an occasional 20 point night, Weems’ inconsistency, and lack of an effective jump shot meant he was never going to feature on a Raptors squad that hoped to mature from bottom feeders to barely mediocre. In 2010 Toronto let Weems walk, and he walked a long way away.

In 2011 Weems found himself in Lithuania of all places, signed for Zalgiris Kaunas — a storied club that has housed every notable Lithuanian player that wasn't named Jonas Valanciunas or Linas Kleiza. The Euro game looked a good fit for Weems, in 15 games he averaged over 15 points with Zalgiris. However, an ankle injury ended his first and only season in Lithuania early. To make matters worse Weems had to return to the US for treatment. Shockingly, he claimed there wasn't any offered to him by the club.

After healing up, Weems tried Europe again — this time with iconic Russian club CSKA Moscow (those in the know say 'Cheska' instead of spelling out the individual letters like a rube). Weems signed a three-year-deal with CSKA, and he instantly became one of the team's core players, alongside Nenad Kristic and Theodoros Papaloukas. In his first season he started all but one game, averaged 13.7 points, and dropped a career high 30 points on Serbian side Partizan Belgrade. In that season CSKA and Weems won the VTB United League (a league made up of Northern and Eastern European clubs), but fell short in the Euroleague, being eliminated in the final four by Greek side Olympiacos.

In his second season in Moscow, Weems won the VTB United League again, and this time made it all the way to the Euroleague semis, where he would lose to eventual champions Maccabi Tel Aviv. In the 2013-14 season Weems was named to the All-Euroleague First Team. In his final season in Moscow (2014-15) Weems and CSKA again won the VTB United League yet again. In all important Euroleague play his team stumbled in the semis once again, this time to old foes Olympiacos - who won 70-68 in a nail biting affair that CSKA was tipped to win.

In 2015 Weems left CSKA, despite having signed an extension through to 2017. The reason for his departure was that the desert was calling him, with another shot at the NBA.

Weems signed for the Phoenix Suns on July 17th, 2015 and showed much of what we saw in Toronto, with the addition of an improved jump shot and better perimeter D. Still, after playing in 36 games (11.7 mpg) Weems was waived by the Suns. He was claimed off waivers by the 76ers in March, 2016 (poor Sonny!), but was waived again later that month, prompting him to set sail once again.

On June 14th, Weems found a new home — in Israel, after signing a two-year-contract with Maccabi Tel Aviv. Maccabi have been around since the 30s and since then they have amassed over 50 Israeli championships and 6 European championships. They have a reputation for recruiting the best talent available on the European scene and are expected to not only win their domestic league and cups each year, but to also be competitive in the Euroleague. Their notable past players include Dragan Bender, Marcus Brown (also from West Memphis), Will Bynum, and former Raptors Maceo Baston, Nate Huffman, Carlos Arroyo, and of course, Anthony Parker.

This season Weems will play alongside another former Nugget in Quincy Miller, former Laker, Rocket, and Euroleague MVP Andrew Goudelock, and Findlay Prep grad Victor Rudd. Their first league game is on October 9th versus Ironi Nahariya. Their first Euroleague game comes four days later, on the road to Armani Milano.

At 30-years-old Weems is heading into the twilight of his career, but the man who was told he may never walk isn't done just yet. "I can still run up and down, jump and things like that," Weems told the Times Record in Fort Smith, AK. "I'm going to ride this basketball thing out until my daughter tells me to stop playing or gets tired of coming to games."

Weems' daughter Sienna — nicknamed 'Ladybug' — was born in Toronto, and still lives here with her mother. Also still in Toronto are plenty of fans who remember the Young Gunz and the precious moments of excitement they delivered during the Dark Ages of Raptors' Basketball.

ELSEWHERE

· Former 905er Sim Bhullar signed with the Dacin Tigers on August 26th. Dacin play in the Taiwanese Super Basketball League.

· Nathan Jawai signed with Cairns Taipans of the Australian National Basketball League. Last season he played for the NBL champion Perth Wildcats. Jawai played for Cairns in 2008 before being drafted by Toronto.

· Joey Dorsey and Barcelona won the Liga Catalana de Basquet pre-season tournament with a 63-77 victory over ICL Manresa. Dorsey started and scored 4 points.

· On September 1st, one time Sonny Weems trading chip Roko Ukic signed for AEK Athens in Greece.