Sam Sessoms (above) committed to Binghamton, his only Division I offer, on Thursday night. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Isabella Sanchez Castaneda (@is_sanchezz)
When Sam Sessoms decided that he would attend The Shipley School for high school, he was going off of a gut feeling.
As a seventh grader, Sessoms visited the Main Line private school and met with the head coach Phil D’Ambrosio, and knew it was where he wanted to go for his ninth through 12th grade years.
At the time, Shipley was not well known for its basketball program in the Friends’ School League and was still adjusting as D’Ambrosio was in his first year as head coach. Sessoms’ felt that he could play a big role in shaping the team’s culture during his four years.
Fast forward to Sessoms as a rising senior: he’s still sticking to his gut. When deciding on where he would spend his college years, Sessoms again based the process off instinct.
Though the high-scoring lead guard knew if he’d played into or throughout his senior year, he could have pulled in more than the one scholarship offer he had, his gut told him that he had the one he needed. So he decided not to wait and committed to that first and only offer, Binghamton University, on Thursday night.
It was, once again, the potential he saw in the team and the role he could see himself playing that pushed him.
“[Coach Tommy Dempsey] made it seem like I was going to be a very valuable piece for the future of the university and that kind of sold me right there,” Sessoms said. “Binghamton is a good university, but they’ve been on the downside. Coach Dempsey made it seem like I could put some footprints inside the university’s history and help change the culture a little bit.”
Sessoms only picked up the offer from Binghamton midway through July, when the America East program became the first out of several tracking the guard to extend a scholarship.
He went up on a visit earlier this week not intending to do anything but see the school, but the day just north of the Pennsylvania/New York border was enough to convince him otherwise.
“My mindset going up on the trip was just to get a feel for the university, get a feel for the team, the coaches and just to see how it was,” he said. “But by the end of the trip I went with my gut feeling, my family liked it and then I thought about it and I just made the decision. I felt like it was the best for me.”
The 5-11 guard has certainly brought excitement and toughness to the Shipley’s basketball program during his first three years there. By the end of his junior season, Sessoms had already become the Gator’s all-time leading scorer, with 1,403 points heading into his final year.
With Sessoms’ help, Shipley was able to make it into the Friends’ League Championship this past season for the first time since switching into the league in 2005.
“In terms of Shipley, five-to-six years ago it was ‘what the hell is that,’ and now people are starting to recognize a bit, and that’s a testament to Sam,” D’Ambrosio said. “From day one, he said he was going to put us on the map.”
After taking that trip up to Binghamton, Sessoms saw he could do something similar at the D-I level with a program that’s only briefly tasted success at the highest level of college basketball.
In recent years, the Bearcats have been making slow progress under Tommy Dempsey, going into his sixth year with the team.
Rebuilding has proven itself a tough project after the 2009 season that resulted in an investigation of then-ead coach Kevin Broadus for violations in the recruitment and admissions processes. That, along with the dismissal of six players, left the program in shambles.
Mark Macon took over the program for three years and saw minimal success. Dempsey then stepped up and has been quietly building up the team since 2012 and ended last season with a 12-20 record.
Dempsey told his newest recruit the Bearcats are in need of someone like him to help them get over the .500 hump and back to the NCAA Tournament for the second time as a D-I program. Up until 1998, the SUNY school had been in Division III, and went from D-III to D-I in just three years.
“They were missing a Philly, gritty point guard, one that’s not afraid to get on his teammates, one that plays like a solid Philly guard,” said Sessoms, a West Philadelphia native.
“He’s going to make it his mission to help turn (Binghamton) around,” added D’Ambrosio.