MYRTLE BEACH — Ramon Sessions is back in the Carolinas.
And this time he plans on sticking around for a while.
Sessions signed a two-year contract with the Charlotte Bobcats last week, winding up close to home after what has been a whirlwind of a handful of months for the Myrtle Beach native.
On Tuesday he acknowledged two major reasons for signing with the lone NBA team in the Carolinas.
The first? Being close to home for the first time since leaving the beach to play college ball at Nevada. The second? A man named Michael Jordan came calling.
“To be honest, it’s just to be closer to home. It’s one of those things where I’ve been gone since college and it was an opportunity to get close to home,” he said Tuesday while holding his annual youth basketball camp at Myrtle Beach High School. “My grandparents aren’t getting any younger and I know they want to come to a lot of games so just seeing friends and family [is a plus] ... I grew up in the Carolinas, I love being in the Carolinas and Charlotte’s going to be OK, man.”
The kicker? Hearing that he was wanted by Jordan, the NBA legend who now owns the Bobcats.
“When Mike called, it’s hard to – you know, I’m a huge fan – just turn it down when you can play for a guy you looked up to,” Sessions added. “It’s just a situation where I just rolled with the punches and I’m happy to be a Bobcat.”
Sessions spent last season with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers, who acquired the fifth-year guard just before the trade deadline. He averaged 11.3 points and 5.5 assists while spending most of the season as a backup before moving into the Lakers’ starting lineup.
At some point, he caught Jordan’s attention.
“Before signing, Jordan was talking to my agent and he was real high on me, the front office was real high on me,” Sessions said. “So when you hear that from a guy like him, and you get the chance to be in that situation you have to go with it.”
Though it could be somewhat of a step down competitively for Sessions, who got his first playoff experience with the Lakers this spring. Now, Sessions joins a team that is rebuilding after setting an NBA record for lowest winning percentage (.106, 7-59) last season.
He hopes to provide qualities that will help new coach Mike Dunlap turn the franchise around.
“Definitely leadership and just being a veteran,” Sessions said of qualities he believes he’ll bring to the Bobcats. “Now it’s my sixth year and I’ve been in a lot of different situations. I’ve been on good teams, bad teams, rebuilding teams. …
“I’m looking forward to the younger guys, just seeing how they are going to react to being in the NBA, playing 82 games. It’s a new coach, new system. It’s going to be a lot of up-and-down game, which is my game. It fits my game a lot better than playing with the Lakers. A lot more pick-and-rolls, a lot of more running.”
Sessions will be in competition with second-year player Kemba Walker for the starting point guard position. Sessions says at this point he has no indication as to what his role will be.
“We didn’t get into details about much of that, but I know coach is going to throw a lot at me because I’m one of the veteran guys on the team,” Sessions said. “Whatever situation it is, I’ll do my job, whether it’s backing up, starting; I’ve done it all. It’s whatever they need me to do.”
And now, he’ll be doing it in front of friends and family after spending his other NBA years in Milwaukee, Minnesota, Cleveland and L.A.
“You’ve got to think about the history of Ramon. From the time Ramon left Myrtle Beach High School his senior year, he’s been away,” said Sessions’ close friend Trello Galloway, an overseas professional player who lives in Charlotte. “He’s been here with us because he comes back every here and again, but he’s been away: Nevada, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Cleveland, L.A. Everywhere has been pretty far from Myrtle Beach. So we know him, but physically to be able to go see him, put hands on him like these kids [at the camp], that’s something a little different.
“It means the world to him to be able to come back home and play. What player would not want to come back home?”
The Laker experience
Sessions had no idea what he was in for when he found out he was traded to the Lakers in March.
Sessions went from being a backup to soon-to-be rookie of the year Kyrie Irving on a struggling Cavaliers team to a starting point guard for one of the game’s most storied franchises.
And then there was playing alongside Kobe Bryant, one of the best players to ever play the game.
“I learned a lot from him. He’s a great player and a very competitive guy,” Sessions said. “I learned a lot about the game. Off the court is really where he gets you and just listening to him talk and [him] knowing all of the sets everybody’s running, just his knowledge of the game [is incredible]. He’s been around so long. I learned a lot. Now I can say I played with one of the best players – if not the best player – to play the game.”
He also got his first taste of the playoffs, where he struggled and saw his numbers drop off to 9.7 points and 3.6 assists per game after averaging 12.7 and 6.2, respectively, after landing with L.A.
“It was exciting. I wouldn’t say it was that I was necessarily nervous, but it was a situation I was looking forward to. I knew coming in that when I got traded that we had a chance – not only to make the playoffs – but to try to win the whole thing,” said Sessions, whose first playoff run ended in the second round. “The playoffs is a different style of basketball; [it’s] more intense because it’s win-or-go home. But it was a great experience and I’ll cherish that for the rest of my career.”
He’ll also always remember his time in Los Angeles.
Playing in the famed Staples Center alone was an experience. That’s where he met Lakers fanatic Jack Nicholson.
“It’s definitely different. In that front row, you can see anybody. It is L.A. and it was fun. … You could just be riding down the street and you’d be looking at Jack or Denzel [Washington]. It’s one of those things being with the Lakers; it’s a Laker town,” Sessions said. “It was an experience I’m glad I was a part of and I thank the Lakers for having me be a part of it even if it was a short stint.”
After initially saying he hoped to re-sign with the Lakers after turning down the one-year player’s option left on his contract, Sessions wound up looking at other options when Los Angeles signed two-time MVP Steve Nash.
Sessions was rumored to be talking with the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets before landing in Charlotte, where he believes his game is a good fit.
He prefers a more up-tempo style, which wasn’t the case in Los Angeles.
“I definitely had to pick my spots and a lot of people don’t understand I was in a Laker uniform for 45 days,” Sessions said. “In 45 days we may have practiced one time so it was like I was really learning on the go. And then [I was] playing in a whole new system I had never played where I’ve got to slow the ball up, not run many pick-and-rolls, spot up more. So it was challenging but it was an experience I learned from and I’m looking forward to next season.”
A broader game
Sessions had been known as a playmaker that would go hard to the rack and get to the free-throw line. He wasn’t exactly a sharpshooter.
Last season, he took his game to a new level.
Thanks to a lot of shots and the help of his cousin and former Myrtle Beach High standout, Akeem Hemingway, Sessions developed a trusty 3-point stroke.
Sessions shot 44 percent from behind the arc, a career high. Prior to that, Sessions hadn’t shot over 20 percent from the 3-point line since his rookie year, when he put up just seven attempts.
“Last year was the first year I used Akeem as a trainer for the whole summer, weights and basketballwise. And it’s something I’m going to keep doing,” Sessions said. “Last season was my best season as an NBA player and a lot of that credit has to go to him because he worked with me day in and day out. We was getting a lot of shots up.”
Sessions’ ability to hit the 3 changed the way teams guarded him. It also convinced Los Angeles they could trade away longtime Laker Derek Fisher, who has for years been known for his spot-up shooting.
Sessions gave them a younger, more athletic guard who could also spot up.
“It definitely opened up the game as a whole because a lot of guys could sag off me because I wouldn’t really shoot the 3 that much,” Sessions said. “But now, if they’re playing off I’m going to shoot it. I may not make it, but I’m going to put it up there.”
And now, many of his friends and family will be able to watch him let it fly.
“When you’re 12 to 15 hours away, Charlotte [being] three hours away is home,” Galloway said. “Ramon talks all the time about how he can come back any day he wants now.”
While Sessions says he’s glad to be home, he wouldn’t trade the last couple months for the world.
“When you grow up being a huge, huge, huge Jordan fan, and just being able to play alongside Kobe and now Jordan is my boss ... if you had told me this 20 years ago I would have been signed up for it,” he said. “So it’s going to be fun and I’m looking forward to it.”
Contact DAVID WETZEL at 626-0295.