Sugar Rodgers now can add “coach” to her life resume. She was hired by Las Vegas as an assistant coach just before the start of the 2021 WNBA season. “I’m excited for the journey,” Rodgers told reporters including the MSR a couple of weeks ago.
“I always hired former players, and this is a natural fit,” said Vegas Coach Bill Laimbeer on Rodgers. “She knows the players here.”
When we earlier talked to Rodgers several months ago in advance of her new book, “They Better Call Me Sugar” (Akashic Books), scheduled for release in May, the idea of her coaching came up during our phone conversation. “I just want to be able to give back to the kids,” she stressed.
Rodgers’ memoir, which she subtitled, “My Journey From The Hood to the Hardwood,” personally details a young girl growing up in dire poverty in Suffolk, Va., who lost her mother when she was a teenager, saw both of her siblings go in and out of prison, and witnessed shootings in her neighborhood. Yet she kept on striving.
Born Ta’Shauna Rodgers, she admitted that academics wasn’t a high priority for her during her formative years, but athletics provided an escape mechanism, especially shooting the basketball. Her brother put up a basketball goal outside their home and soon she became good enough to hustle the neighborhood drug dealers in one-on-one games.
“I didn’t have to face reality whenever I was playing,” recalled Rodgers. She eventually made her high school team. Rodgers said she wanted to go into the military like a friend did but others told her to seriously look at college as a Plan B, despite her academic struggles.
“You can go to school for free. You can make it out [of the hood] on a four-year scholarship,” she said.
“I ended up being really good” at basketball and chose Georgetown among the schools that were recruiting her, continued Rodgers. The Washington, D.C. university, she believed, would best serve her for life after college if this basketball thing didn’t work out. “Going to one of the top business schools in the country” looked like a winning proposition.
Rodgers starred for the Hoyas as she became the first person in her family to not only attend college but graduate as well. She hoped a team would select her in the first round of the 2013 WNBA Draft, but Minnesota chose her in the second round. She later became a member of the Lynx’s 2013 championship team in her rookie year.
Minnesota traded Rodgers after that season to New York, where she first played for Laimbeer. She was chosen for the 2017 All-Star team and helped the Liberty to three straight Eastern Conference regular-season titles in her five seasons there. She then was traded to Las Vegas, where she reunited with Laimbeer and helped the Aces to two postseason appearances and last season’s Finals.
Now, after eight pro seasons, she’s a coach as well as a first-time author, “She’s a good story to tell,” stated Laimbeer of Rodgers.
Rodgers said she wants her book to be read especially by young people, to help them see that if they are faced with circumstances like those she grew up in, that they can still be successful in whatever endeavor they seek. “They can do things and they can survive life,” she advised.
Rhodes Rookie of the Year
St. Catherine’s first-year golfer Jaycee Rhodes became the school’s first MIAC Rookie of the Year when the league announced its award recipients last week as she played in the NCAA championships in East Lansing, Mich. “I am excited and open to the many new opportunities that being Rookie of the Year will offer me in the future,” she told the MSR.
For more on Rhodes, see “St. Kate’s golfer makes the best of challenging first year,” MSR May 6).
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.