June 7, 2023 

Long journey paying off for Sug Sutton so far in 2023

Sug Sutton is back in the WNBA for the first time since 2020 and is excelling for the Phoenix Mercury

Late in the first quarter of the Phoenix Mercury‘s May 25 matchup with the Minnesota Lynx, Phoenix backup point guard Sug Sutton dribbled the ball up the floor, hesitated just behind the free throw line, quickly crossed the ball over behind her back and fooled her defender Tiffany Mitchell.

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Sutton blew by Mitchell and scored a layup despite Mitchell’s attempt to play defense from behind, turning into a foul. The Mercury guard converted the free throw attempt and the play ended up on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” as the No. 9 play in its signature top-10 plays.

The play was one of the many gratifying moments this season for Sutton, who has been on quite the journey in her professional career.

After four solid seasons at Texas, Sutton was drafted with the last pick (No. 36) in the 2020 WNBA Draft by the Washington Mystics. She saw time in 12 of the team’s 22 games in the pandemic-shortened season, averaging just 2.8 points per game in 9.4 minutes per game.

Sutton returned to the Mystics ahead of the 2021 season but was waived during training camp. She then went abroad to play in Australia and injured her back. Due to the injury, she was not able to tryout for a WNBA team ahead of last season.

When Sutton was healthy enough to play again, she joined a semi-professional team, the St. Louis Surge, in her hometown of St Louis, Missouri.

“It gives women the opportunity to just play and if you don’t make the WNBA roster, it just gives you an opportunity to play and get game reps if you don’t want to train one-on-one all the time,” Sutton said.

The Surge play in the Global Women’s Basketball Association, which according to Sutton, looks for players cut by WNBA teams. Sutton said playing for the Surge helped her greatly.

Dealing with an injury and having to play semi-professional basketball after experiencing the WNBA could understandably deter a player from wanting to continue to fight for the WNBA dream. However, Sutton did not think about quitting.

“Never, never, never,” Sutton said. “I’ve always dreamed of being in the WNBA since I started when I was four-years-old.”

Sutton gave a unique response when asked who kept her striving for the WNBA dream during her time out of the league. She said her dad, Larry Sutton, helped motivate her through the process but also said she did much of the encouraging herself.

“My dad,” Sug Sutton said. “And I think just some self-motivation as well. My dad really motivated me when I was little; after that, he let me go and kind of figure it out on my own. So I think it’s a lot of self-motivating and a lot of perseverance that I had to go through. I think I took it upon myself just to work my butt off and just get back to where I want it to be and achieve this goal of being in the WNBA.”

Larry Sutton discussed why he never discouraged his daughter from giving up basketball.

“I know it was her dream,” Larry Sutton said. “And she worked hard for it. That’s what she live for, man. Is to play in the W, play professional basketball, period. And I wasn’t going to let her give up on her dreams.”

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On March 9 of this year, Sutton was signed by the Mercury to a training camp contract. The team needed guard depth, with Skylar Diggins-Smith being away from the team due to maternity leave and Shey Peddy recovering from an August Achilles injury.

Sutton not only made the team but has been arguably the second-best player for Phoenix this season after seven-time All-Star center Brittney Griner. She is second on the team with a 51.4% field goal percentage, leads the team with a 62.5% 3-point percentage and has scored in double figures in all four of the team’s games. Despite coming off the bench, she is averaging the third-most minutes per game on the team. She has also shown her ability to pass the ball well, averaging 3.5 assists per game.

Larry Sutton shared his reaction to finding out Sutton made the Phoenix Mercury.

“I just dropped the phone and really had a couple of tears come to my eyes,” Larry Sutton said. “Because, like I said once before, she’s reaching her dreams. … So, it’s big for me, man. It was touching. It really was.”

Sutton discussed what has led to her having so much success so far.

“I think Coach (Vanessa Nygaard) – she’s made me feel … comfortable,” Sug Sutton said. “Just coming into training camp, everything we’ve done in training camp I’ve picked up pretty well. Comes from my experience. I played one year in the W, but everything here, they’ve made it pretty easy for me to adjust to everything and I’m thankful for really great teammates here and for the coach that made me feel comfortable.”

Nygaard praised the addition of Sutton, her energy, and her “hunger.”

An aid to Sutton’s Mercury experience was starting forward Sophie Cunningham. Both from Missouri, Cunningham and Sutton have known each other since they were teenagers playing 3-on-3. The team they played on was Cunningham, Sutton, former Missouri Tiger Cierra Porter and current Minnesota Lynx star Napheesa Collier. Their 3-on-3 team went to Colorado to try out for Team USA and went on a deep run in the qualifiers.

Knowing Sutton made Cunningham wonder where her former teammate was the past couple of years. Cunningham said she thought Sutton should have been on a WNBA team.

When Sutton came to the Mercury, Cunningham vouched for her fellow Missouri native to team brass.

“I was in their ear,” Cunningham said. “We got to keep her. Like she is so good. … And I am so glad we are not playing against her because my ankles would be broken a couple times and I’d be on SportsCenter top-10.”

Sutton discussed how having someone she is familiar with has helped her so far this season.

“It’s always good to have somebody that you know coming to something new,” Sug Sutton said. “So, when I first got here, Sophie was the first person to greet me – excited. But no, she took me under her wing since day one and she made me feel comfortable really fast. So I’m really thankful that she’s here and she’s able to help me through it.”

As for making SportsCenter’s top-10 plays, Sutton was surprised she made it.

“That was super cool,” Sutton said. “I did not expect that. …. I always looked at top-10 SportsCenter. I grew up watching stuff like that. So, it’s pretty cool to be a part of it.”

Written by Jesse Morrison

Jesse Morrison covers the Phoenix Mercury for The Next. A native of Roanoke, Va., Jesse moved to Arizona in 2017 to attend the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, graduating in 2021 with a degree in sports journalism. Outside of The Next, Jesse works for Arizona Sports, co-hosting an Arizona State podcast, producing a radio show and writing for their website.

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