Philly trash talk, a front flip off of a banister and unwavering support are at the core of Coppin State guard Sam Sessoms, Jr.’s fondest memory of his late younger brother Sidney Sessoms.
During Sam Sessoms, Jr.’s sophomore season at Binghamton University, with 16 seconds left on the clock against the New Jersey Institute of Technology, there may have been some doubters of the Bearcats.
But Sidney Sessoms was not one.
“My little brother was my biggest fan,” the accomplished Coppin State guard said. “You could not tell him that anybody else was better than me at basketball. He was truly my biggest fan. He used to argue for me with dudes in the neighborhood. I would be in another area of Philly and he would call me and tell me to come and play with them.”
Once the ball was in the Shipley School standout’s hands and he waved off the timeout and called the isolation play, Sam’s little brother knew a Bearcat victory was not far away.
With two seconds left, Sidney Sessoms was overjoyed at the thought of Sam making the game-winning play.
“We’re from Philly, so I already know he was talking smack and just saying a bunch of things that I can only imagine,” Sam said. “He was the only one who was jumping up, while everyone else was in their seats just watching.”
The telepathy between the Sessoms brothers foreshadows Sam Sessoms, Jr., making the game-winning layup. Before the young guard could scan his eyes around the gym, his younger brother had already broken all the rules of the gym by doing a front flip over the banister to make sure he could be front and center to celebrate with his favorite player.
Sam Sessoms, Jr. ended the game with 30 points.
“The one video clip just shows how much belief and faith he had in me from the moment he saw me bringing the ball up,” Sam Sessoms, Jr. said. “He was in the stands thinking I was going to hit the game-winner. It really just shows our relationship and how far he would go to show how much he supports me, regardless if he was right or wrong.”
As Sam Sessoms, Jr. reflects on the footage he got to watch from an ESPN+ recording of those final minutes, he would have never imagined how much this footage would mean to him. Then the unimaginable happened.
Sessoms impacted by tragedy
In the middle of September 2021, Sidney Sessoms and their father, Sam Sessoms, Sr., were victims of gunfire in their family home. Sam Sessoms, Sr. left the scene in critical condition and ultimately survived.
Sidney Sessoms did not survive. his gunshot wounds leaving a hole in Sam Sessoms Jr.’s heart.
After leaning on his friends and family and those who connected with his story and dream, Penn State Rivals reporter Max Ralph reports Sam Sessoms, Jr. was able to fundraise $67,787.
Four months prior to the Sessoms’ earth-shattering experience in their home, outside of their home Sessoms’ youngest sister was a victim of a gunshot wound to her leg.
Moving around in sets of three has been a common theme in the Philadelphia native’s life. Due to the tragedy gunfire has brought the Sessoms family, they have lived in three different homes over the years.
Sam Sessoms, Jr. saw the number three recurring again when he began his student athletic journey at Binghamton University. After playing for two years, he transferred to Penn State before finally deciding to call Coppin State home.
The Sessoms’ family has always kept a piece of basketball in their lives. Before Sam Sessoms, Jr. had even reached the age of 10, his father would bring him and his sister along while Sam Sessoms, Sr. participated in a basketball league for players 35 and up.
“I just remember looking up and seeing a bunch of older people playing,” Sam Sessoms, Jr. said. “I wasn’t even paying attention half the time.”
Becoming the breakout star
The oblivious regard for the sport would soon turn into the focal point of the hungry star’s life; he picked up a ball at the age of 11. During his eighth-grade season, the younger Sam was selected to play in one of the All-City Classic games in Philadelphia, which consisted of the best eighth-graders in the city.
At the conclusion of the game, Sam Sessoms, Jr. was awarded MVP.
“From that point forward, I started to realize how good I could be because at that time I didn’t even think I was one of the best eighth graders,” he said. “To play in that game, I felt like I got lucky and then on top of that to win MVP.”
The motivated 13-year-old was able to morph himself into a talented force at the Shipley School under head coach Phillip D’Ambrosio. While with D’Ambrosio, Sam Sessoms, Jr. won back-to-back championships in 2017 and 2018.
The breakout star also holds the school’s record with 2,091 career points.
“Just a tremendously driven kid both on and off the floor,” D’Ambrosio said. “For him, it’s bigger than basketball. He takes pride in everything that he does, from his classwork to his appearance. He has a high standard and high regard. He challenges himself every day to uphold the standards as a bright young man.”
After two-year tenures at both Binghamton and Penn State, the younger Sam still occasionally feels like the first day of school.
“The hardest part is getting a feel for new people, environment and new basketball systems,” Sam Sessoms, Jr. said. “Every school I went to, no matter how old I was or how many games I had under my belt or how many accolades, I always felt like the new guy and it kind of put me at a disadvantage in some situations as far as learning the schemes on offense and defense.”
Sessoms the ‘gym rat’
The redshirt senior even shares a few jokes with Coppin State sophomore guard Greg Spurlock about who’s the veteran and who is the rookie. Spurlock believes Sam Sessoms, Jr. is the veteran, but Sessoms Jr. often finds himself in the rookie position looking to Spurlock to help him understand Coppin State’s style of playing ball.
Averaging 24 points, 5.6 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game, Sam Sessoms, Jr. puts up veteran numbers. For the past six weeks, he has also left the MEAC with the undeniable choice of awarding him MEAC Player of the Week each time – most recently after coming off of a double-overtime victory over James Madison.
“He’s a gym rat,” D’Ambrosio said. “I think, quite honestly, it’s his safe haven. Any time he is able to get a ball in his hands or get around a court, it puts him at peace. He’s a no-days-off kind of guy.”
Sam Sessoms, Jr. mentions the bright side of having multiple stops in his career is the relationships he’s been able to form and foster over the years.
Finding comfort at an HBCU
At Binghamton, he entered his freshman year with another Philadelphia native in Richard Caldwell. Their brotherhood would soon be Sam Sessoms, Jr.’s home away from home in Binghamton, N.Y.
“We always made sure we kept in contact with each other,” Sam Sessoms, Jr. said. “When we are both home, we have fun and go to the gym together.”
Once Sam Sessoms, Jr. arrived at his second stop in State College, Pa., as a Nittany Lion, he instantly bonded with Penn State guard Myles Dread.
After deciding to bring his talents to an HBCU, Sam Sessoms, Jr. experienced a full-circle moment when Justin Steers became his teammate. The duo initially agreed to both bring their talents to Binghamton, but now are together to finish out Sam’s collegiate career at Coppin State.
Sam Sessoms, Jr. did not take the decision to come to an HBCU lightly.
“Everything Sam does is thought out,” D’Ambrosio said. “He always sleeps on every choice. He takes time to weigh his options. We are really big on putting stuff down on paper.”
The 6-foot guard explains coming from a low socioeconomic background, everyone around him is Black and attending an HBCU created a warm blanket of acceptance for Sam Sessoms, Jr. to strive in.
“I was fed up with having to fit in,” Sam said. “I knew coming to an HBCU, I could just walk in the buildings and I don’t have to worry about how I look. Of course, I am still going to show up as a respectable young man but here (Coppin State), I don’t have to worry about being the odd man out. It was easy to come here. I can come here and simply play basketball and only worry about that.”
Sam Sessoms, Jr. also believes at his HBCU he is more than what he can produce on the court. He expresses feelings of being heard, seen and understood.
“Sometimes as student-athletes, when you’re not at an HBCU or you are not the majority when basketball isn’t going your way, you have nowhere else to lean and you are away from your family,” Sam Sessoms, Jr. said.
The star describes himself as the missing piece of Coppin State’s team. When choosing his final destination, he wanted to go somewhere he felt like a ring would be attached.
“I told JD (head coach Juan Dixon) that I am coming to Coppin State to win a MEAC championship,” Sam Sessoms, Jr. said. I have accomplished a lot in my career and I am pretty much satisfied with the individual accolades, I just want to win at this point. That’s the only goal. I am putting we over me.”
With the visual of his brother’s front flip and championship ring at the forefront of this Eagle’s mind, he’s expecting to soar.
“Family is everything and that’s what we harp on,” D’Ambrosio said.
Courtesy: Alexis Davis, MEAC
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