Bucks, Sessions hit their mark again

Veteran guard playing best ball of pro career

The first shot resulted in a swish.

The second has been a bonus.

Ramon Sessions, who got his foot in the door to the National Basketball Association as a Milwaukee Buck in 2008, has been scoring at a career-best clip since returning to square one Feb. 20, 2014.

The 6-foot-3-inch, 190-pound guard, acquired by Milwaukee along with forward Jeff Adrien from the Charlotte Bobcats in exchange for Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour, was averaging 16.2 points, 4.7 assists and 3.10 rebounds in 32.6 minutes per game through 27 games – 11 starts – with the Bucks this season. He was shooting .463 from the field, .377 from 3-point range and .839 from the free-throw line.

Though the 2013-14 Bucks will finish with the worst record in their 46-year history, Sessions has welcomed the opportunity to come back to the place where the roots of his pro career are planted.

“This is where it started,” Sessions said. “The Bucks gave me a chance. Pretty much every team did pass on me. Being the 56th pick in the draft, most guys don’t survive in this league for as long as I have.

“But the Bucks did their homework. They gave me a chance. So this will always be home. It feels great to be back.”

Sessions entered the NBA ranks with little fanfare despite a highly successful three-year run at the University of Nevada. An early entry into the 2007 NBA Draft, his name wasn’t called until Milwaukee made him selection No. 56 -- out of the 60 total players chosen.

Bucks management liked his upside enough to sign him to a multi-year contract on Sept. 11, 2007, but he was assigned to the Tulsa 66ers of the National Basketball Development League less than two months later.

Though Sessions went to Tulsa, he didn't let his game nor his will to succeed go south. On the contrary, he took the NBDL by storm immediately after hitting its low roads. Over a 24-game span, he averaged 21.1 points, 7.6 assists and 6.5 rebounds, had three outings of 33 points or more, achieved one triple-double and seven double-doubles and was twice named the league's Performer of the Week.

Before Sessions could enjoy one of the small rewards of NBDL life -- he was a lock to play in the D-League All-Star Game -- he was summoned back to the NBA and rejoined the Bucks on Feb. 1.

Shortly after he touched back down in Milwaukee, though, life threw him a curve. No, make that a beanball.

In his first practice back with the Bucks, he sustained a fractured left hand, which sidelined him through Feb. 23.

Sessions did not make his long-awaited NBA debut until March 9 in Philadelphia. He earned more opportunities as the season entered its stretch drive. And he embraced them.

Those who witnessed the beginning of Sessions’ NBA career never saw him flinch. He always conducted himself and played like he belonged.

“That all started when I was a little kid, just always playing with the older guys and trying to compete with them,” Sessions said. “After getting that chance to play in the NBA, I had to prove myself and make the most of that chance.

“Mo Williams was here then, and he told me to always make the most of my opportunities. I really sat back and thought about what he said. I just tried to cherish every moment, whether it was in the D League or back here for those last games of the season. I tried to make the most of every minute.”

Sessions averaged 8.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 7.5 assists and a steal over his next 16 games.

The pinnacle of his rookie campaign came April 14 at the Bradley Center, when he broke Guy Rodgers’ 40-year-old franchise record of 21 assists in a game, dealing out 24 against the Chicago Bulls. He also scored 20 points in the contest, becoming the first player in the team’s 40-year history to collect 20 points and drop 20 dimes in the same game.

Nothing that Sessions achieved during his rookie season came easily, but he followed a simple regimen – one he still follows -- to get the job done.

“I just always try to bring it every day,” he said. “First of all, this is my job. And I love to play this game.”

Sessions continued to emerge during his second season with Milwaukee. He played in 79 games, started 39, and averaged 12.4 points, a team-high 5.7 assists and 3.4 rebounds in 27.5 minutes.

Sessions had a team-high 23 points and six assists in a 34-minute stint against Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns on Nov. 8, 2008.

On the night of Feb. 7 during a home game against the Detroit Pistons, Sessions and teammate Charlie Villanueva etched their names into the Bucks record books alongside some of the franchise's all-time best players.

Sessions bettered his previous career high of 25 points with a 44-point outburst against the Pistons, connecting on 13 of 18 field-goal attempts and sinking 18 of 21 free throws. He also handed out 12 assists -- a team high to that juncture of the season -- and snagged five rebounds.

Villanueva continued a January/February scoring tear with 33 points, making 11 of 20 shots from the floor (two of five from 3-point territory) and nine of 11 foul shots and came up with seven rebounds, four assists, two steals and a blocked shot.

Their combined 77 points were the fifth-most ever scored by two Bucks teammates in a single game.

Sessions was surprised to learn how many points he had scored. He was caught up in the moment of trying to help the Bucks win an intense game.

“I knew I went to the line a good many times,” he said. “But we don't come out thinking we’re going to try to get 30 or 40 points. I was getting shots, and they were going in. I didn’t know how many I had until after the game, they had it on the Jumbotron. I was like, ‘44? Wow!’ I just wish we had gotten the win.

“That was the most points I’d had in a game since my high school days. I believe I had 56, or 54. But that doesn’t compare to 44 in an NBA game. I’ll take the 44 in the NBA game.”

Sessions and Villanueva never duplicated their 77-point barrage, but it wasn’t just a flash in the pan.

Sessions followed it up with a 26-point outing in his next game, a 15-point, 17-assist performance in the one after that and posted the team’s lone triple-double of the season with 16 points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds against the Los Angeles Lakers on April 1.

All told, Sessions topped 20 points on 12 occasions, averaged a career-high 12.4 points per game and a team-leading 5.7 assists per contest. His 2.97:1 assists-to-turnovers ratio ranked ninth in the NBA.

Sessions remains grateful for the teammates he had to usher him into pro basketball.

“Mo Williams was definitely one,” he said. “Michael Redd was another guy who was there for me. I spent a lot of time watching him, how he worked and how he was always a professional. Charlie (Villanueva) and I were real good friends. He tried to show me the ropes of the NBA on and off the court. Friendships like those will never be broken.”

On Sept. 4, 2009, Sessions signed an offer sheet with Minnesota. The Bucks had seven days to match the offer, but declined.

Since then, Sessions has played for the Timberwolves, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Bobcats. He logged a career-best 6.2 assists per game with the Lakers in 2011-12, then averaged a career-high 14.4 points per game for Charlotte in 2012-13.

Sessions, 28, has not only averaged 18.1 points and 6.2 assists for the Bucks during April, but become a mentor to the team’s younger guards.

“I’m not an older guy, but I’m a veteran and I feel like can help these guys,” Sessions said. “We’ve got a younger team, but we’ve got a lot of talent. From what I’ve seen since I’ve been here, they’re playing. better than what I saw before. Once we get to know each other more, I think we’ll continue to get better.

“I’ve been in several places where I've backed up younger guards. I played behind Kyrie Irving in Cleveland. I sit back and study guys’ tendencies a lot and I like to share what I see. When I’m out there, I just try to fit in and not do too much. That has always worked for me.”

Yes, for Ramon Sessions and the Milwaukee Bucks, the bonus shot has been a swish, too.