I remember it very clearly… Tommy Dempsey kept asking “why aren’t others recruiting him?”
Damn good question Demps… “I don’t have a fuckin’ clue.”
It was Fall of 2017 and Dempsey, the Head Coach at Binghamton University, could not believe what he was seeing. Here was an uber talented kid… A sure fire leader… A fierce competitor with highly refined offensive skills sitting there with no offers. What the fuck?
Dempsey wanted him… He really wanted Sessoms.
The Binghamton coach really couldn’t understand why there wasn’t a line of D1 coaches on the Sessoms family porch. Honestly, I really couldn’t help him figure that one out.
I was flummoxed my damn self.
Indeed, Black Cager Sports had just named Sam Sessoms the HS MVP of the Greater Philadelphia region. His competitors for that award were Cam Reddish (Duke), Isaiah Wong (Miami), Donta Scott (Maryland), Naheem McLeod (Florida State) and Eric Dixon (Villanova). Each and every one of those guys was a sure fire high major prospect with multiple offers.
Yet, somehow the Black Cager MVP had ZERO (0) D1 offers. That is, until Dempsey laid eyes on him. Now it is worth mentioning that Dempsey had some real advantages over a lot of other programs. He had developed a keen understanding of Philadelphia’s Scholastic Basketball scene. Perhaps, more importantly he had cultivated and maintained some strong relationships in the Phillt basketball community.
Dempsey always did his homework. As a result, Dempsey feasted on overlooked Philly ballers at both Rider and subsequently Binghamton. For example, he took a chance on an unheralded Public League Division D Conference Player of the Year in 2008. Paul Robeson’s Brandon Penn went on to have a solid career in the MAAC and play professionally overseas.
Some other guys like Mike Ringgold, Danny Stewart and Novar Gadson were more well known commodities, but they garnered little interest from Big 5 programs. These guys excelled under Dempsey at Rider. Ringgold pumped in 1,386 points and grabbed 789 rebounds. Stewart finished his career with 1,414 points and 872 rebounds. Gadson put up 1,475 points and corralled 726 points.
Sometimes Dempsey hit doubles, triples and homers. Other times the at-bats weren’t as fruitful. Philly schoolboy legend, Nurideen Lindsey played a solid, but unspectacular, season for Dempsey at Rider. Lindsey averaged 8.0 ppg and 1.6 apg in his lone year with the Broncs.
One of Dempsey’s last forays into Philly while at Rider was his recruitment of Roman Catholic PF Junior Fortunat. Fortunat would average 3.7 ppg and 2.5 rpg over a 112 game career at Rider. A Canadian national, Fortunat’s mother had entrusted Stephen Pina and I to help him find a program that would provide him with a quality education. We trusted Dempsey…
Why? Because Dempsey graduated ALL of his 4 year guys… Period. He also won more than his fair share of games at Rider and was rewarded with an opportunity to coach Binghamton University near is childhood home.
As he changed jobs, Dempsey remained committed to recruiting Philadelphia area kids.
Indeed, his first big recruit at Binghamton was Wissahickon’s Jordan Reed. In his first two years at Binghamton, Reed scored 913 points and pulled down 524 rebounds. Reed would transfer and complete his collegiate career at Tennessee State.
I say all that to say… Dempsey knows his way around Philly.
So when he was recruiting Sessoms he was perplexed… “How am I the only one that sees it?”
I had no real answers.
The most common explanation put forth for the lack of D1 interest in Sessoms as a PG prospect was the sub par season his grassroots club had during his 17U season. Playing alongside, not one, but two ball dominant top 20 national players he was overlooked. Cam Reddish and Louis King were at or near the top every national recruit ranking. Both would eventually be named to the prestigious McDonald’s All-American team in 2018.
Sessoms a natural point guard, spent his summer, on the wing, watching Reddish and King do their thing on an immensely talented and underachieving Team Final squad that struggled to compete against the very best the EYBL had to offer.
Some say that experience really had a negative impact on his recruitment.
I’m not so sure… To come to that conclusion, one has to skip over the body of work he put in at the Shipley School. For four years, Sessoms literally terrorized the opposition. He went up against all the very best teams in the area and… quite fankly…
He BUSSED day ass!
I mean he truly was unstoppable. Some of the finest guards in the region were completely at his mercy, There was nothing they could do to slow him down, much less stop him.
Tommy Dempsey saw it… I saw it…
The other 350 or so D1 coaches just missed it.
A proud young man and a fierce competitor, Sessoms and his father refused to allow the slow pace of the recruitment process to get to them. They understood that he only needed one offer… Just one…
On a visit to Binghamton, Tommy Dempsey did something no other D1 coach in America would do that year. He offered Sam Sessoms a full basketball scholarship. A few days after returning from the visit, Sessoms would commit to Dempsey.
Over the next two seasons, Sessoms was the most productive player in the America East Conference. Dempsey was rewarded handsomely for his belief in Sessoms’ ability to compete at the D1 level. In just 2 seasons, he finished his tenure at Binghamton No. 2 on the Bearcats’ Division I-era career scoring list with 1,151 points. He eclipsed the 1,000 career point milestone in just 57 games. His 588 points as a freshman stands as the second-highest single-season total in program history. Sessoms finished in the top five in America East in both scoring and assists, he was one of only two of the league’s players to accomplish that feat as a freshman and sophomore.
In short, he tore they asses up…
Predictably, after his outstanding freshman campaign, many of the schools that completely disregarded him 12 months earlier expressed a profound appreciation for his game.
“If he transfers… we would be interested…” I heard that from at least 7 or 8 mid to high major programs.
However, by that time, Dempsey and Sessoms had developed a relationship that extended beyond the traditional player/coach bond. These guys were friends. They are both forthright grown men and treated one another with the respect one would accord to another grown man.
Recognizing that Dempsey gave him an opportunity fulfill his dream of playing at the D1 level when others had not, Sessoms decided to stay at Binghamton for his sophomore campaign.
After his second year, Dempsey fully understood that Sessoms faced an monumental decision. While he excelled individually, Binghamton continued to struggle as a team. Wins were hard to come by. He knew that Sessoms would have a boatload of options.
He knew the rest of the world could now see what only he saw 24 months earlier… Sam Sessoms is a BAD MUTHAFUCKA…
Dempsey humbly asked if he could recruit him again as Sessoms weighed his options to “move up” to a high major program. This is grown man shit! He didn’t try to manipulate him… He didn’t bad mouth the programs that expressed interest in his franchise player… He just asked for an opportunity to present his best case for Sessoms remaining the centerpiece of the Binghamton program.
I fuck with Tommy Dempsey!
In what was an emotionally charged conversation, Sessoms had to let his coach know he was moving on. Speaking to Dempsey around this time, he was conflicted. He knew that Sessoms would be successful wherever he landed, but he was losing his best player and his good friend. He fully supported Sessoms and still does.
A decisive young man, Sessoms quickly determined that he could be major contributor to the Penn State program Pat Chambers was building.
Not long after his commitment, the NCAA decided to make this year a “free” year for all student-athletes eligibility-wise. At that point, Sessoms sought and was granted a waiver to play immediately.
God is good… Penn State Basketball has Sam Sessoms at 20, with two seasons under his belt for the next three years.
Sessoms will help every player and coach in the Nittany Lion program get better. He will prod them… He will push them… If they are slow to respond, he will get it done himself…
It looks the same to me, he’s out there imposing his will on opposing teams. Going where he wants… Doing what he wants…
Only difference is the opposing teams are much bigger, stronger and more athletic. You know what though?
He’s BUSSING dey ass too!