Rodgers Overcame Incredible Obstacles To Reach Lynx Camp
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Sugar Rodgers doesn’t take anything for granted, whether it’s on or off the basketball court. Take the basketball hoops, themselves. Growing up in Suffolk, Va., Rodgers learned the game on a make-shift court with a basket connected to a wooden backboard her brother bought for $10. They connected it with tires, used cinderblocks to support it and played all day and all night.
Today, Rodgers’ basketball career is in a far different place. She honed her game at Georgetown, was drafted 14th overall by the Lynx in April and is now competing for a spot on the team’s regular season roster—playing every day at LifeTime Fitness Center on hardwood courts and aiming at beautifully polished glass backboards.
But that’s really just the beginning of the story. Rodgers’ journey to a WNBA Training Camp is just as improbable as it is incredible. She’s suffered losses of family members through death and imprisonment, lost her home at a young age and, unlike many of her family and friends before her, graduated high school. She’ll receive her degree from Georgetown this month.
Along the way, basketball has been her guiding light.
“I’ve had a lot of deaths, but I keep pushing forward, and basketball’s been my way of relieving stress,” Rodgers said. “When I’m out here I’m free. I don’t think of any of that stuff that’s going on at home. It’s been my safety box.”
Through all her ups and downs, basketball has been a constant.
Rodgers took on responsibilities well beyond her years early on in her life. She lost her mom after a battle with Lupus when she was 14, and during her illness Rodgers said she spent much of her time as her mother’s nurse. She skipped school to help feed, clean and tend to her mother’s needs.
When her mother passed away, she and other young members of her family stayed in the house without an adult. Eventually, they lost the home. She became homeless as a teenager.
“My sister went to prison for 10 years, for a decade, and my brother ended up going to jail trying to make a way for us to survive,” Rodgers said. “He did whatever it took for us to have a roof over our heads, food. I was pretty deep.”
At that point, Rodgers began moving around to different homes. She spent time at an AAU coach’s house, who made her part of her family. She also spent time at her aunt’s house and eventually went to her cousin’s place, which she now essentially calls home.
Basketball was a constant through all those tough times. She picked up the sport playing with guys in her neighborhood after her mom got sick—before that, she enjoyed golf as part of an activity she and her mom did together. Basketball paved the way for relationships that opened up shelter during difficult times and created a network for her to enter Georgetown. That’s where she began gaining exceptional recognition for her play at the collegiate level.
The campus began feeling like home.
She was an All-America Honorable Mention as a freshman, was a team captain as a senior and holds the Hoyas’ all-time records in career points and 3-pointers made. She was a four-time All-Big East First Team selection.
All of that seems incredibly special to Rodgers. After all, she is arguably the most decorated women’s basketball player in Georgetown history. But what sticks out most about the school when she talks about her time there is the sense of community she felt and the education she gained. Both are incredibly important. Some might take that for granted on college campuses. Sugar Rodgers does not.
“Now I’m here, I’m graduating college,” Rodgers said. “This is a big opportunity for me, not only for me but for my family to see somebody make it. Where I’m from, you don’t see that. You either go to jail—jail’s like college—you go to jail or you end up getting killed or something crazy ends up happening. You get hooked on drugs. It’s been a long road.”
That road helped Rodgers become incredibly strong as she fought through obstacles. She said those real-life challenges helped mold her game into a “play like there’s no tomorrow” type of mentality.
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said she sees that passion and energy when she watches Rodgers on the court.
“You know she’s got the days she played in Suffolk…that’s where she learned,” Reeve said. “She’s a very gifted, instinctive player. She’s just trying to figure out how to do things. She’s a pleaser, like everybody else. She wants to do things right.”
Every day, she said she gives it her all because she needs to for herself, her family and young kids in her neighborhood to show them they, too, can strive for an education and ensuing success.
“In my city, it’s like I go home and I’m a celeb. Not just because I went on to play in the WNBA, but because I got an education from one of the top schools in the country,” Rodgers said. “I went from not liking school to really focused and getting everything down pat.”
Each day, Rodgers continues to work hard in hopes of solidifying her spot in this league. She’s had a long road to get to this point, from that make-shift court and wooden backboards to Target Center. Each day she works to get better at the sport that opened up so many doors and opportunities in her life.
“I’ve got to put it all out there,” she said. “It’s not that many of us—it’s me, my brother, my sister, and I have more of my nephews. But to show them there’s a way out, keep pushing forward, don’t let anyone distract you. You can do anything you put your mind to. You can do it.”
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