words: Marla Cantrell
Images: courtesy Barry Gossage, NBAE
Sonny Weems, former University of Arkansas-Fort Smith standout and Razorback alum, returned to the NBA (National Basketball Association) this past season after playing overseas in Lithuania and Moscow from 2011 to 2015. Since that time, Sonny has played a solid backup role for the Phoenix Suns squad, scoring points, pulling down rebounds and showing his unselfishness with assists. His current contract with the Suns runs through next season.
The six-foot, six-inch 205-pound combination guard-forward from West Memphis, Arkansas, is excited about his successful return to the NBA. Sonny got his first taste of the NBA between 2008 and 2010 when he played for three NBA teams—the Denver Nuggets, the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Toronto Raptors.
Sonny was traded from Denver to the Bucks in 2009. Then, that same year, Milwaukee made a trade which sent him to the Raptors. He remained with Toronto for two years, but they declined to pick up his contract option for the 2011-12 season. Around that same time, the NBA was in a lockout stemming from a labor dispute, and it put Sonny in a tough spot. Knowing that he needed to keep improving his game, as well as developing his maturity level, Sonny opted to trek outside the United States and continue playing basketball.
“Playing in Europe brought me back to being focused on what I really love, which is the game of basketball,” says Sonny. After being away from the NBA and playing in Europe, Sonny, who turns thirty in July, says he learned not to give up on his dream and keep persevering. His desire to get back in a league that showcases the world’s best professional basketball players taught him to stick with playing overseas until a better opportunity came calling. This year, Sonny proved that sticking with it pays off and showed he can play at the highest level.
Sonny’s former UAFS head coach, Jeremy Cox, now an assistant coach at Southern Miss University in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, says that an NBA caliber player such as his former collegiate star has to have the body and athletic ability to succeed. “He’s obviously stayed in great condition and taken good care of himself,” Jeremy says of Sonny.
Along with staying in shape, Jeremy is sure that the guys who make it for a great period of time getting paid to play basketball, just like Sonny, have great work ethic and show tremendous character in the way they handle themselves on and off the court. “You have to do what is asked of you,” Jeremy says. “That’s obviously what he does.” Jeremy doesn’t see Sonny letting his ego get in the way either, but believes his attitude is that he’ll simply do his job and do what’s needed. “He’s a winner,” Jeremy says.
In his diligence to help Phoenix win this season, and be at his best, Sonny didn’t take time away from basketball, even on days when the Suns didn’t play. “I didn’t really consider our off days as my off days because I tried to go to the gym and get in a workout and stay in shape,” he says. “I didn’t play many minutes, so I tried to get in as much game-shape as I could. My off days consisted of being in the gym.”
On game days Sonny did his best to get to the gym before everyone else to get warmed up and ready to go. “If there was a game at 7:00pm, I’d try to get there at 4:00pm,” he says. “I wanted to be there about three hours before the game.”
While Sonny’s focus is on his pro career, he will never forget his time in Fort Smith and says that some of his fondest memories of going to college in Fort Smith were meeting new people and being with his teammates. “We won a championship (2006),” he says. “That was probably the high point of my career, winning the junior college national championship for that city and for my team and that entire school program.” You can hear Sonny’s excitement about winning that national title, even though he’s a decade removed from the victory.
Playing basketball at UAFS was the easy part for Sonny because he was such a gifted athlete in his chosen sport. But, he is thankful for the learning experience that helped him figure out how to be responsible for things as a student-athlete and not always looking for someone else, like his parents, to handle everything. “It taught me to grow up,” he says.
Sonny knows he still couldn’t have done it alone and credits Coach Cox for being a father figure who guided a young guy from the small town of West Memphis who was kind of wild and reckless. “He taught me to focus all of my energy on just playing basketball and trying to provide for my family,” Sonny says of how his former coach influenced him. Jeremy enjoyed being a mentor to Sonny and loved being around him. “He didn’t have a bad day,” Jeremy says.
Maintaining a positive attitude, while having the drive and determination to be successful seems to be working for Sonny. He recognizes that the NBA game is a lot different with such an elite level of athletes such as: Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors), Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder), LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers), Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans), and Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers), just to name a few.
Sonny chuckles when he talks about guarding Steph Curry, saying that he’s definitely one of the most difficult players he’s had to guard. Fans watching from home see Curry make some unbelievable shots, and with a laugh Sonny adds, those things you see Curry do on television—that’s real life.
Regardless of how his future plays out in the NBA, Sonny knows it’s a privilege to be where he is now. With only 300 NBA players, he’s grateful to be part of that select group. “I’m blessed to be one of them, and I can’t ask for anything more.”