December 29, 2021 

Elle Sutphin’s instant impact on the Davidson program

'She's just a constant sponge trying to get better'

Second leading scorers typically start games on the court, not the sideline. 

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But for Davidson redshirt sophomore Elle Sutphin, when the ball tips off she’s on the bench. And she doesn’t mind one bit. 

“I want to be able to come out on the court, regardless of my role or regardless of whether I start or not, and I want people to want to play with me and understand I’m there to play off of them, and they’re there to play off me,” Sutphin said. 

She describes herself as a “jump starter” player and always looks to make an impact when she checks into the game, regardless of if it’s on the offensive or defensive end. 

Sutphin started playing basketball in the third grade and was coached by her father during her third- and sixth-grade recreation league teams. She believes that he was her biggest influence in basketball.

When she was younger, her father asked Sutphin if basketball was something she wanted to do seriously. After she said yes, he pushed her on and off the court to be both a good basketball player and a good person. 

As she continued to grow and develop, she became comfortable being in the post because of her height, she’s currently listed at 6’3

A conversation with her AAU coach, Brian Robinson, several years ago changed her mindset about how she plays the game. 

He asked her “Elle, are you a post player? Are you a guard? What are you?”

Sutphin replied, “Oh, yeah, I’m a post player.”

He said, “Eh, no, you’re not. You’re a basketball player.”

This interaction changed both how Sutphin viewed herself, but also how she played the game.

“Before that, I was a back-to-the-basket type player and didn’t really look to drive or really look for my shot,” Sutphin said. “And once I got that in my head and instilled some confidence and other fundamentals and other skills I think it opened my eyes to what else is out there and what else I can do with my height, especially … I think it really just opened the door for my game to evolve.”

Robinson continued to teach Sutphin to not limit herself because when she does, it’s easier to scout her.

As she continued to develop she learned how to take advantage of her options. With her ability to shoot the ball, she was able to take advantage of bigger defenders. Similarly, she was able to post up against smaller defenders. 

In 2019, Sutphin said, “He’s [Robinson] had me doing guard skills and post skills, inside-out things. Anything to help me expand my game and be versatile.”

She believes her versatility is part of what makes her unique. 

“I think having those different options is very key, especially in college basketball,” Sutphin said. “Because you don’t know who you’re coming out to play every night.” 

Originally a member of the class of 2020, Sutphin started her college career at N.C. State sooner than expected. In May 2019 she announced she would be graduating from high school early and officially signed her National Letter of Intent to join the Wolfpack ahead of schedule two months later. 

N.C. State head coach Wes Moore had offered Sutphin a scholarship before she even set foot on a high school court.

After her commitment as a member of the 2019 recruiting class was announced Moore said, “She is a long forward that can go inside to post or rebound, but she also possesses guard-like skills that make her a versatile scorer.”

After redshirting her freshman season, Sutphin averaged 2.1 points and 1.3 rebounds in 8.2 minutes per game across 16 contests during the 2020-21 season. 

On May 21, 2021, Sutphin announced she would be transferring to Davidson. 

Getting to know her new teammates was the easiest part of the transition for her while adjusting to the rigorous academics was the most difficult part. After a slight major change and getting a routine set, Sutphin successfully settled in at Davidson. 

Wildcats’ head coach Gayle Fulks referred to Sutphin’s transition on the court as “seamless.”

She noted that Sutphin is in her third year of college basketball, despite being the age of some of the freshmen in the program. Fulks said that Sutphin came into the program with a lot of experience, despite her age, that prepared her to have an easy transition at Davidson. 

Sutphin does not regret enrolling early at N.C. State and believes it prepared her more than anything else. 

“I would say coming in a year early gave me a year of insight and [time] for me to mature up, and then to prepare myself to be ready to play in really good ball games and really competitive ball games,” Sutphin said. 

She added, “It developed my basketball IQ a lot more. And I think being able to watch [while redshirting] is a lot different than playing. When you can watch, you can see things develop, you see how people react, you see how different players play.”

Elle Sutphin high-fives her teammate
Elle Sutphin high-fives her teammate at Belk Arena on Friday, November 05, 2021, in Davidson, North Carolina. Photo Courtesy of Tim Cowie,

Redshirting was not Sutphin’s first time sitting on the sideline, having battled multiple injuries in her three-year high school career. Instead of becoming complacent, Sutphin also used the opportunity to learn what to do in different situations, and it sparked her interest in coaching. 

She recalled beginning to form opinions on coaching decisions, saying, “I was like, ‘Okay, wow, I love the way he handled this,’ or ‘I didn’t like this so much. But here’s what I would do.’”

Sutphin was also a referee in high school and believes that her variety of perspectives on basketball has given her a new respect for the game.

Being injured showed her that basketball can be taken away from her at any time. That experience humbled her and made her more grateful for being able to play the sport she loves. 

Refereeing taught Sutphin that every call may not be the best, but it’s better to move on quickly because as a referee, it’s impossible to make everyone happy with every call. 

Having this outlook has brought her a new joy. 

“You’re more positive towards the things that happen,” Sutphin said. “And you’re more likely to be optimistic and work yourself out of bad situations because the game is not always going to be perfect.” 

Fulks describes Sutphin’s play on the court as “aggressive and assertive.” 

She added, “I think she’s a unique scorer, that can really put the ball in the hoop a lot of different ways, and has great touch around the rim. She’s very versatile.”

Despite not starting a game so far this season, coming off the bench in all 12 contests, Sutphin is second on the team in scoring with 12.9 points per game. She also adds 4.8 rebounds per game.  

After a 9-14 season last year, the Wildcats have matched their win total from last season. The team is 9-3, good for the program’s best start since the 2006-07 season, behind Sutphin’s play. 

Sutphin’s favorite part of playing basketball is playing with people who make it fun. 

“When you play as a unit, that’s when it’s most fun,” Sutphin said. “Because when you’re on your own island, it’s constant stress. But when you know you can depend on the people around you, that’s what makes basketball the most fun for me.”

She knows that she’s found a group of people that make playing basketball fun in her teammates at Davidson. 

“I think the girls here do a great job of supporting each other on and off the court,” Sutphin said. “And I also think when we play, we want each other to do well. We’re out there, we’re trying to hunt everybody’s Option A’s. And I think that’s something that’s really special about our program.”

Fulks describes Sutphin as a gym rat and believes she fits into the culture of the program well. She and the rest of the coaching staff see the work Sutphin puts in and know the other players see it as well.

Sutphin can regularly be seen giving high fives, words of encouragement to her teammates and generally radiating a positive energy that can be felt by her teammates and coaches alike. 

Fulks has a simple answer to her favorite part of coaching Elle, “She wants to be really good.”

“She wants to be really good within the context of a team sport,” Fulks added. “She cares a whole lot about helping the team win and trying to find ways that she can do whatever we’re asking of her better. But she’s just a constant sponge trying to get better for us.”

Sutphin still has 3.5 seasons of eligibility left. During that time Fulks hopes to see Sutphin continue to grow and become a better leader, something she’s already seen begin to develop. 

“She’s definitely someone that is always thinking about others and encouraging and ready to step up and take the reins when needed,” Fulks said.

Looking ahead, Sutphin has her eyes set on winning the Atlantic 10 in the regular season as well as the conference championship to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament. She hopes the team can piece everything together and use their youth to their advantage to continue to win games. 

Personally, Sutphin wants to be more consistent, get better on the defensive end, specifically she wants to guard guards more efficiently, and be more vocal on the court. 

With the Wildcats’ hunt for a conference title beginning in 2022, Sutphin knows what she needs to work on and her goals are set. 

She wants to win. 

Written by Natalie Heavren

Natalie Heavren has been a contributor to The Next since February 2019 and currently writes about the Atlantic 10 conference, the WNBA and the WBL.


  1. Terry Maines on December 29, 2021 at 7:01 pm

    That’s my great niece Elle!
    Love to watch her play!

  2. Rocky Brooks on December 30, 2021 at 8:36 am

    I really love to watch Elle and the Davidson ladies play basketball but my greatest joy is knowing the good person that Elle is from being around her in life situations thank you so much for revealing just a small piece of that

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