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For our sixth Surge Spotlight, we interviewed Sug Sutton. The 23 year old St. Louis native was named a McDonald’s All-American her senior year of high school, attended and starred at the University of Texas, was drafted to the WNBA and played on the Washington Mystics, and played overseas before joining the Surge. In the following Q & A, Sug reflects on her family, the “Wubble”, and important lessons she learned from the late Kobe Bryant.
(The following interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity).
This is your first season with the Surge. What is it like being back in St. Louis and playing in front of your family?
Being back home is a great feeling because I haven’t played in St. Louis since high school. My family is my biggest inspiration and they’re the reason I play basketball, so I love being able to play in front of them and especially my grandma, who hasn’t seen me play in a long time. I was little when Khalia first started the Surge and I would come to Surge games. Now, I’m playing for her team. It’s pretty cool how we all look out for each other in St. Louis.
You get to play in front of your family, but you also get to play with your family, with Shug Dickson (Big Shug) being your cousin. How has playing together impacted your relationship with Big Shug?
We grew up playing with each other, but we’ve been supporting each other from a distance for so long. Now that we are back together, we’ve built a great relationship. We love playing with each other because we still have that connection from when we were little.
You played on the Washington Mystics in the 2020-2021 season, when the W was in the “Wubble” due to COVID. What were your experiences like both in the “Wubble” and on the Mystics?
Being drafted and being 1 out of 144 players to be in the Wubble was everything I dreamed of. When it comes to the WNBA, everybody stands for something. It’s not just about basketball and that season was special because we were supporting those that were killed by police officers. Seeing how the WNBA vets carried themselves was amazing. They knew what they were doing and they knew what they were talking about in the political world. The way they carry themselves is something I want to emulate as I continue my career.
With your journey in the W, I’m sure there were a lot of big moments like the moment you were drafted, the first game you played, the first bucket you scored, etc. In those moments, what emotions were running through you?
Being drafted is something I’ve dreamed of since I was little. As I heard my name called in the WNBA draft, I instantly cried. Since I was four years old I’ve watched the WNBA and looked up to people like Candace Parker, Diana Taurasi, and Maya Moore. Being on the court with them was unreal. I remember the first time I played against Candance Parker, and I just thought “dude, that’s crazy”. I was grateful to be in the WNBA. For the rest of my life, I’ll remember being drafted and I’ll remember my first bucket. Ariel Atkins and I played at Texas together and then on the Mystics and she passed it to me for a jumper. She got me my first bucket in the WNBA. I’ll never forget that.
Who were the vet’s on your team and what was your relationship like with them?
Our vets were Ariel Atkins, who was also my vet at Texas, Myisha Hines-Allen, and Leilani Mitchell. I learned the most from Ariel. They move fast in the W and if you don’t keep up, then you can’t hang. Ariel took me under her wing when I came to the Mystics and I’m grateful for our relationship. She taught me to be poised and always told me that I was a great player and I had to trust myself. I continue to take that with me. She also instilled a work ethic in me. She’s one of the hardest workers I’ve been around as a player and as a person. She probably doesn’t know this because I don’t tell her, but I look up to her so much. She’s excelling in the WNBA, so hopefully I get back there and continue to learn from her.
With only 144 spots and really less than that with salary caps, I imagine training camp is insanely competitive. What was the environment like at the Mystics training camp?
Training camp is very competitive. You have players coming out of college, players that were on the team and invited back, and then you have the vets. You don’t know what’s going to happen after training camp, but everyone is out there giving it their all. In the end, the experience is what matters the most. Everything I learned in training camp and from the WNBA, I’ve brought to the Surge, and I can bring it wherever I go next.
Can you talk through the similarities and differences between playing overseas, playing in the GWBA, and playing in the WNBA?
Overseas is more physical, but I feel like the GWBA is no different (than the WNBA). Everybody’s competitive. Everybody is talented. I never compare leagues because basketball is basketball and everybody’s giving it their all. I’m happy I’ve been able to play in all three places.
Playing on a WNBA team is obviously an amazing accomplishment. What are some of the things – physically, mentally, emotionally – that go into growing your game to a WNBA caliber?
The biggest thing is mental. From a physical standpoint, we’ve prepared at the collegiate level. From a mental standpoint, we can struggle because there’s a lot of pressure. This is a job. You can be fired or you can be added to a new team. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You have to be competitive at all times and be open to everything that comes with playing professional basketball. At the professional level, what sets you apart is your mental toughness.
What or who drives you to achieve your goals?
The main thing is my family. They have been supporting me and believing in me since day one. If I get there (back to the WNBA), that’s 100% for my family. I look up to my dad the most. He’s the reason I’m still playing basketball. Every day, he pushed my sisters and I to be better than what we were yesterday. We didn’t like it then, but we appreciate it now. My two older sisters played basketball before me and I can remember them being in the gym when I was four years old and I was up behind them dribbling a basketball because I wanted to be like them. They’ve been my biggest role models and they inspire me to keep going with this. I’m also going to thank my college coaches, Karen Aston and Jamie Carey. When I was at my lowest my freshman year of college, they took my game to another level and they believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.
I heard you have a passion for coaching. What inspired you to coach and do you have a specific vision for your coaching career?
My Dad coached my sisters and I growing up, and he created an organization, the Missouri Phenom, for us. He’s been coaching for over 30 years now. It’s his passion and it’s my passion, too. I definitely want to be a women’s coach. I want to start at the collegiate level and then work my way to professional. I would love to be an assistant coach under Karen Aston. I love her to death and she’s an amazing coach. I learned from her as a player and it’d be awesome to learn from her as a coach.
If you had to name 2-3 of the hardest things you’ve overcome to be who you are today, what would they be?
The first is when I tore my ACL my senior year of high school. I had just become a McDonald’s all American and I felt like I was at my best. There are positives that came out of it, but I still wonder about what could have happened if I didn’t tear my ACL. At the time, I beat myself up mentally because coming off of the injury, I didn’t know if I would be the player that I was before. Looking back, everything happens for a reason. I’m still here, I’m still playing at a professional level, and it was just something I had to go through. The second thing I’ve struggled with is not being able to be where I want to be and on a WNBA team. I’m still figuring it out and trying to get over that mental hump. You have to continue to be thankful for the position you are in, and not think about why you’re not somewhere else. I try to stay positive about the situations I’m in and take things one day at a time. I know I’ll get to where I want to be and I’m thankful that I’m still young and able to play at the professional level.
In one of your Instagram posts, you talk about appreciating the “now” and how you’ve come to appreciate the little things in your day to day. What role does the now play in your current life and how does that translate to the court?
I go by this all the time and I got it from Kobe Bryant, who is a big influence on my life as well. It plays a very big role in my life because you can get so bogged down in thinking about what’s going to happen in the future. If you think about the future all the time you’re going to make yourself more anxious or more mentally cluttered, but focusing on the now and appreciating everything that you can control grounds you. On the court, you don’t want to come to a game and think about what’s going to happen in the game or what’s going to happen afterwards. You stay present, stay in the now and control what you can control in every situation. That’s what great players do. That’s what Kobe Bryant did. I still use this mindset every single day on the court and off the court, because it keeps me focused and present.
What is your game day routine?
After shoot-around, I’m pretty much just chilling. I make sure I have my game day nap, which is 45 minutes to an hour. I have a Game Day meal which is usually a smoothie or fruit and I usually eat a big lunch so that I won’t have to eat a lot before the game. I’m superstitious about everything I do. I’ve been doing the same things since college, but recently I’ve gotten into meditation and visualization. Kobe Bryant was also a big meditation person and that’s something that will allow me to get to that next level mentally. I usually listen to meditation music for 10 minutes and sit there and focus on being present. I’m adding little things like that to my game day routine and keeping the things I know have been working since college.
What are your career goals?
100% I want to be in the WNBA and I want to build a legacy within the WNBA. I was drafted last in the 2020 WNBA draft and if I’m able to become a great player, my story will be different and it’ll be one to tell. I want to do it for myself, my family, and everybody in my community. After I’m done playing, I don’t want to be away from basketball, so I want to teach others the game and continue to keep the coaching legacy going within my family.
It’s gametime Sug. Let’s see how well we know each other. I’ll say a statement about myself and you say if you think it is True or False. Then, I’ll tell you if you were right. We’ll alternate. Click the link at the top of this article to watch us play!
Casey: I have one brother. (T)
Sug: Let’s see if you were listening earlier…I have two brothers. (T)
Casey: True. I was listening!
Casey: I’ve been in St. Louis for two years and I didn’t go to downtown St. Louis until this summer. (T)
Sug: True. Gotta be true.
Casey: It’s kind of embarrassing, but yes, true.
Sug: I’ve been to Italy twice in one month. (T)
Casey: I’m a dog person. (F)
Casey: Yeah, I’m a cat person through and through.
Sug: My favorite food is pizza. (F)
Casey: My favorite ice cream flavor changes every summer. (T)
Sug: My first sport was track and field. (T)
Casey: *confidently* False.
Casey: What? You were playing basketball at 4 years old, how is that possible?
Sug: Competitively, I did track first. I did it from 4 years old to 8 years old, but I didn’t play competitive basketball until I was 6 or 7.
Casey: The last time I posted on Instagram was 2014. (T)
Sug: What the heck? So what do you do on there?
Sug: I’m a big video gamer. (F)
Sug: Yeah, false. I’m over it. I’m not good at this game.
Final Score: Casey – 4, Sug – 2.
Sug may be the squad’s highest scorer, including a 31 point night that ended with a buzzer beater (pictured below) to secure a W against rival Wisconsin GLO, but her teammates regard her as one of the most humble people they have met. Sug is a star on and off the court and we are beyond happy she is #Surge2022. Tune in to our website and socials for our final Surge Spotlight tomorrow!