Sometimes you know. On my very first night on South Carolina soil, Dan Hellie of the NFL Network sent me to Latta High to see a sophomore phenom named Raymond Felton. The first thing he did was a twisting move in the lane that ended with an authorative slam. Right then and there I knew that I was seeing something special. At the 3A SCHSL football state championship game in 2010, I saw Jadeveon Clowney throw down Everett Golson like a rag doll. I heard all this hype about Clowney and I saw it in the first 30 seconds of the game.
Ramon Sessions was good - real good during his high school days at Myrtle Beach High. But no one had him penciled for NBA stardom. As a matter of fact, when he held his second WPDE Mister Hoop Zone trophy in 2004, he didn't have very many college options at all. The area high school coaches got it right, picking Ramon over players with numerous Division I offers. He almost went to UMass, but eventually landed at the University of Nevada where he helped put that program in the NCAA Tournament for three straight years. He then left a year early for the NBA, where he was the furthest thing from a lottery pick. A late second round pick by the Milwaukee Bucks, it seemed as if he may never get out of the NBA's Developmental League. Ramon's road to the NBA wasn't easy, but his time in his Myrtle Beach neighborhood gave him the toughness and fortitude to defy the odds and become a seven year veteran who has outperformed hundreds who were drafted higher than him through the years. A great graphic from Deadspin justifies Sessions improbable journey to productive NBA player.
How did this surprising multi-million dollar career come to fruition? Two things - Racepath and Buddy Rogers. Racepath is the community where Sessions grew up and the tough neighborhood had pickup games that bred toughness both physical and mental. The late Buddy Rogers found his 2002 state championship Seahawks foundation on the courts of Racepath and took Sessions and his teammates and loved them like they were his own. Coach Rogers was a humble man, a gentle soul who loved the kids he coached unconditionally. He and Ramon were kindred spirits and it was Buddy who guided Sessions to be not only a great player, but a great person. Rogers left this earth in 2005, but Ramon Sessions makes it a point that no one in Myrtle Beach will forget his high school coach. He has worn a wrist band with Rogers name in every single NBA game he's played, the colors shifting from purple during his LA Lakers days to white and orange with the Charlotte Bobcats. It starts with a summer camp filled with hundreds of youngsters at Myrlte Beach High and carries over to his annual turkey give away. 200 turkeys personally delivered by Ramon who had a chance to reunite with the old neighborhood. He's rubbed elbows with Kobe Bryant and has taken the court against Lebron James, but back in Racepath, he's the same old Ramon. He's covered head to toe in Reebok gear and made sure that the Seahawks boys and girls basketball teams have Reebook uniforms just like him.
I could have gotten a press release from the Charlotte Bobcats, or some fancy PR release from Ramon's agent about his return home to help give out turkeys. Instead, I got a phone call from Mrs. Sessions, telling me that Ramon was coming home on Sunday and she told me that Ramon wanted to make sure that she called to tell me. I had a busy weekend. A real busy weekend. I finished up the End Zone at about 3am on Friday/Saturday morning and was in Columbia for the SCISA state championships at noon. After shooting two games, I dashed over to Williams-Brice Stadium for the end of the Gamecocks/Coastal game. On Sunday, I had to shoot a pair of Maui on the Mainland college basketball games at Coastal Carolina. Ramon Sessions had me beat by a mile. 13 points, 6 assists in Milwaukee, a 2am arrival in Charlotte, a three hour ride to the beach, and just enough of a pitstop to roll up his sleeves and lift turkey after turkey and mix it in with hugs and pictures. He was back on the court Monday night against the Celtics.
Coach Rogers gave me such a sincere thank you for giving Ramon a special night in 2004. On that night, he had no college offers and could have easily been just another high school hero. He's honored Coach Rogers, the WPDE Hoop Zone Trophy and a small market sportscaster in the best way possible. I still will scour the box scores every night to see what Raymond Felton and Ramon do and take every opportunity to brag on them during the news, but I saw Ramon Session's finest performance on Sunday afternoon in Racepath. Since Coach Rogers can't say it, I'll say it for the both of us as Thanksgiving approaches. Thanks, Ramon.