Sutton fought her way through adversity, all-boys teams, athlete stereotypes and serious injuries to win the 2008 Female Gatorade Player of the Year, the first athlete from New Jersey to do so, and secure a spot on the world-famous Globetrotters.
The Early Years
Born in the small town of Trenton New Jersey, Sutton began playing basketball at the West Ward Recreation Centre, her earliest memory being the only girl on an all-boys team:
“I saw this man shooting the basketball into a bucket and I was fascinated, I stared at the man shooting this ball and he came over and said, “if you make the ball spin then it will go in". I ran back into the house and told my mum I needed a basketball and I made it, the only girl on a boys’ team."
Growing up in a family of five brothers, Sutton knew she had the keenness to rival the boys on her team and the ability to climb the ranks in school basketball just like they did:
“I was good just like the boys. I was a good dribbler, a good shooter, I was aggressive, young. It gave me a competitive edge and confidence because boys bodies are built differently, I had an advantage because boys are quicker, they’re stronger, they are more competitive, they can’t lose to a girl. So, my game just elevated, I wasn’t afraid to get hit.”
As Sutton continued to enjoy a successful high school basketball career, her biggest achievement came just before she left for university:
“I was awarded Gatorade Player of the Year in 2008 for New Jersey, the first athlete from my state to receive the credit and be recognised as a scholar-athlete. I take pride in being both an athlete and a scholar, no one in my hometown ever won this in history, so for me to be the first and a female, it’s incredible.”
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The College Years
With Gatorade one of many accolades already owned by Sutton, she was accepted to play NCAA Basketball for the University of South Carolina (2008-12) and became crucial in the development of the program, even though the star athlete was plagued with injuries:
“Being chosen to go to college 13 hours away from Trenton, that homesickness was serious. They expect you to be in condition and I was only 17, no one in my family played college basketball so it was new. I fractured my back my sophomore year and wore a brace, the public didn’t know because it was disclosed info. The next year I tore my meniscus then my senior year I tore it again. Just year-after-year dealing with injury but no one would ever know because I hid my pain well. Being from Trenton, you just take the hit, you just deal with it. I don’t know how I did, it was definitely God, it was definitely about confidence.”
During her time at USC, Sutton became one of their best players, recording almost 1,300 career points and 300 career assists. She earned All-SEC and SEC All-Defensive team honours her senior year, led the team to their first Sweet 16 in 10 years and elevated the Gamecocks from mediocrity back to their space at the 2012 NCAA tournament:
“I didn’t grow up watching sports but once we got the invite to the tournament everyone was so proud of me, I didn’t understand until we got there and people predicted we would lose, but we won. It was a great moment. I told my teammates I believe in me, I believe in you. The saying I coined in college, “we all we got, we all we need” is still used today. Everyone would look at our team because we were small, like 5ft-7, 5ft-8, playing against teams that were 6ft-3, 6ft-4, and they would doubt us. But we didn’t need All-Americans, we were all we got.”
However, despite all the triumphs and achievements Sutton put into play throughout the University, they never masked the gender inequality female athletes face in collegiate sports across the US:
“Marketing can be a lot better especially for female athletes because guys games are on TV, they’re streamed live, for girls, unless you’re a big-time college, you have to find it online or look at dots on the computer. Fans that love the game can’t physically watch or get to know the players. Even guys on the bench will get an endorsement or bigger contract than a girl that started and played four years. They just don’t get that opportunity.”
The Harlem Globetrotters
Sutton secured her place as a guard with the Harlem Globetrotters after playing stints overseas in Taiwan, Finland, Ecuador, Germany, and Bulgaria (2013-16) and is currently entering her second season with the franchise:
“The Globetrotters recruit the best talent worldwide. My case was just word of mouth, someone saw my videos online and looked up my resume then invited me to training camp. It’s been a great experience so far and we get to travel the world doing what we love basketball. We also go into schools and hospitals and make people smile. Whether you’re a little kid or 80-years-old you’ll have fun at a game and that’s the best part, seeing people forget about their hardships and just chill out.”
Although she may don the blue jersey on court representing the Harlem Globetrotters, Sutton embodies true Trenton pride and continues to give back to the community she claims made her. A proud product of the seven-square-mile New Jersey city, Sutton established Fan Favourite in 2013 to provide ‘hope, inspiration, and resources for individuals to overcome obstacles and struggles they have or are constantly faced with:
“Fan Favourite is my brand. I got the nickname in college because I would interact with fans and they love the way I play and carry myself, so I started this company selling apparel. But I made it more than clothes and basketball, now I do motivational speaking and opened my first Fan Favourite facility last September. It’s a safe space for creatives, visionaries, athletes, entrepreneurs to want to learn and discover.”
Asked about the highlight of her career so far, Sutton said:
“Being able to be a part of the Globetrotter history. I’ve won championships in high school and several awards in college, played on TV, on radio, but to be chosen as a part of this 94-year-old brand, that’s insane. Being the first female athlete from New Jersey is legendary - shout out to Lynette Woodard who was the first female in 1985. Fans want more females, there are grandmothers, mothers and girls at shows and so now, 2020, we have five female Globetrotters and at the games, I always try to show more attention to the little girls. I know how important it was for me to have a female role model.
“Being an African-American female, it means much more because there was a time when we weren’t allowed to be in the same room as other people, let alone men. We were told to go into the kitchen and have babies and cook. We’re talented, we’re smart, we’re strong, we can be CEOs and anything we want. Under my braids, I wear my natural afro and it’s just cool to see other young girls in the crowd embracing their afros, just being who they are.”
On Role Models
As Sutton highlighted, it is extremely important for young female athletes to feel they have a role model throughout their journeys and outlines the inspirational women that guided her:
“Besides my mum, my first female role model was Aaliyah, the singer, because my whole childhood I wanted to be her. She was well-spoken, kind, classy and loved her fans. Then, Whitney Houston, being from New Jersey, she was misunderstood, people couldn’t separate her as a singer from who she was. She came from the same background as I, the projects, but I admire how she went all around the world, changing lives with her voice. Finally, JK Rowling. I’m a creative person and like to write so just seeing how she took something so small and it became so huge, it changed her life. She just needed one person to say yes.”
Sutton gave out some final advice for young girls wanting to follow in her footsteps as a pro athlete:
“First and foremost, ask your parents for a basketball and take it everywhere. You don’t need a court to become a good player, my parents couldn’t afford a hoop so I would dribble the ball all the time and play catch. It wasn’t until I started joining rec teams that I started to shoot. People think you have to be fast or tall, but it’s all about confidence, you’re going to miss shots but don’t give up.
“For every female reading this, you have to be extremely confident in your abilities and the dream you have for yourself. If you see it, that’s all that matters.”News Now - Sport News