Monday, April 21, 2014

Suffolk's Sugar, Sugar: Georgetown star, WNBA player and now, author

The book is called "A Bitter Sweet Life," -- fitting for Ta'Shauna Rodgers, known to the women's basketball world as Sugar.

Run into Suffolk, Va.'s own around town, and she might be signing autographs for little girls, figuring a way to donate more shoes to the kids at the local rec center or training for a professional career that, frankly, she never dreamed of back when. The Georgetown graduate, a guard who is also the Hoyas' all-time leading scorer and a first-team All-Big East all four years, was drafted by the Minnesota Lynx in the second round. A few weeks ago, the Hoyas most decorated player was traded to the New York Liberty; today Rodgers leaves Suffolk for training camp in NYC.

"Get to play in Madison Square Garden," she says.


So what's the bitter part in a memoir that the English major penned, which will be released near the end of the summer?

Examine the cover, created by friend Larry Jones. The kid with the Sugar headband is all smiles twirling a basketball on her left index finger.

But the number she wears is 14 -- representative of July 14, 2005 -- the day she lost her mother, Barbara Mae to lupus. Sugar was 14 years old at the time; she was picked 14th in the draft and she wore 14 in high school. She hasn't talked publicly about the period surrounding her mother's death before, nor much about the dad who wasn't around enough and died with dementia her senior year of college.`

The details are in the book. A preview:

On her mom: "I had to wash her, clean her, wash her bedspread, lift her from one bed to the next. . . ."

On her dad who she saw right before he died: "He always knew who I was, which was weird because we never actually spent that much time together."

When the family home was condemned -- and yes, there was a drug bust there once, Sugar bounced around from place to place. She didn't attend class regularly at King's Fork High, even sold marijuana to get by. "I had food on the table and clothes on my back, so I didn't care," she says.

The book cover depicts a kid in the background being hauled off by police, a site Sugar grew up with on the east side of Suffolk. A drug syringe lies on the ground, and a basketball hoop, two tires holding it down, stands upright. That's where she played on 2nd Avenue, net missing, wooden backboard.

Sugar didn't realize basketball could be her ticket to a better life. She golfed, and she was good, part of a Tiger Woods youth team. But golfing was something she did with her mom.

"When she passed, I stopped," she says.

Her brother and sister were support, reminding her that she was meant to do something positive with her life. But the cover of the book shows a pile of trash overflowing in a can. On top is a letter from Georgetown, one Sugar tossed initially.

"I didn't think I was going to go to college," she says. "I threw it away. I put all the college letters in the trash. I thought I was going to go in the army."

She played AAU ball for Boo Williams and he pushed college. She developed a bond with his sister, Teri Williams-Flournoy, who, she says talked, language that she could understand when she recruited her at Georgetown. (Williams-Flournoy left to coach Auburn in 2012.)

Life at Georgetown didn't present the same challenges as the streets of Suffolk, but it was far from easy. "My freshman year I was barely passing," Sugar says. "It's a hard school. I had to ask for help, and I was scared, because I had never asked people to help me. I needed tutors for every class. But then I realized it's not a bad thing to ask for help."

She wants to see more people emerge from tough situations. She's active at King's Fork middle and high schools and is a regular at the Suffolk Rec Center on 6th Street (her Lynx team organized a shoe drive benefiting the kids there).

"I tell kids there is a way out. You have to stick with it and believe. No matter what people say -- some people said I'd never make it out of high school -- but I did. So no matter what people say, you can do it."

As a pro, Sugar doesn't live a luxury life. She doesn't own a car or her own house. The stunning watch on her right wrist and the gleaming bracelet on her left are two of her only frills, along with some extra athletic shoes that are her weakness.

"I don't spend much," she says.

The cover of the book could be mistaken for a kids book. Make no mistake. This is an adult story, a candid journey of overcoming the odds, but Sugar wants young people to see it, relate to it, read it and be inspired. She'd like it to be a movie someday.

"I want to be about giving back and reaching out to the kids. I want to motivate and let them know not to let anybody stop them, no matter what's going on at home. They can make it."

Like she did.

No comments:

Post a Comment