‘I’M JUST HON­ORED TO BE A PART OF IT’

Sta­ley’s first re­cruit re­turn­ing to SC as a Glo­be­trot­ter

The State - - Local - BY LEZLIE PAT­TER­SON

La’Keisha Sut­ton made a lot of Uni­ver­sity of South bas­ket­ball fans smile from the first time she stepped on the Carolina cam­pus as Coach Dawn Sta­ley’s first Game­cock re­cruit in 2008 un­til she helped lead USC to the Sweet Six­teen in 2012.

These days, she’s traded her gar­net and black uni­form for the widely rec­og­nized red, white and blue of the Har­lem Glo­be­trot­ters, mak­ing fans all over the world smile as she per­forms daz­zling tricks with the famed “Am­bas­sadors of Good­will” known for their amaz­ing bas­ket­ball skills and com­edy.

And while Sut­ton, known as “Swish” with the Glo­be­trot­ters, couldn’t join her cur­rent team­mates at Colo­nial Life Arena on Fri­day, she will be per­form­ing with the world fa­mous ex­hi­bi­tion bas­ket­ball team when they play in North Charleston on Saturday, and in Florence on Sun­day.

Sut­ton was as dis­ap­pointed as many USC fans that she wasn’t at Colo­nial Life Arena with her Glo­be­trot­ter team­mates, but she en­cour­aged ev­ery­one to see the show.

“I think Game­cock Na­tion will en­joy my team­mates,” Sut­ton says. “They’re amaz­ing. And we will have one of the best show­men there, Big Easy.”

Big Easy is Nathaniel Lofton, a 6-foot-9 player who owns Guin­ness world records for the far­thest bas­ket­ball hook shot ( 72 feet 6.25 inches) and the far­thest blind­folded bas­ket­ball hook shot (58 feet, 2.5 inches). A Glo­be­trot­ter “show­man” is ba­si­cally the em­cee for the per­for­mance.

Sut­ton also says to look for Torch, whose real name is Cherelle Ge­orge. Sut­ton, a Glo­be­trot­ter rookie, calls Ge­orge her men­tor. “She re­cently just got a Guin­ness World Record (most bas­ket­ball un­der the leg tum­bles in one minute for a fe­male, with 32) so she’s amaz­ing as well.

“We have a lot of great peo­ple in the or­ga­ni­za­tion so I’m just hon­ored to be a part of it, hon­estly,” Sut­ton says.

The Glo­be­trot­ters saw videos of Sut­ton on­line, and of­fered her a try­out via email. She signed a con­tract with them the day of that try­out in Oc­to­ber.

Glo­be­trot­ters coach Jimmy Black­lock says Sut­ton, a 5-foot-9 guard from Tren­ton, N.J., is fit­ting in “quite well.”

“She’s a trooper in prac­tice,” Black­lock says. “She prac­tices quite hard. What I like is that she asks a lot of ques­tions.

“This is what she wants to do. She’s go­ing to be good at it. She’s a very good bas­ket­ball player. I hardly see any weak­nesses in her game…. I’m re­ally proud of her.”

None of that is news to Sta­ley, who wasn’t at all sur­prised when Sut­ton ended up a Glo­be­trot­ter.

“It’s right up her al­ley,” Sta­ley says. “She loves bas­ket­ball. She’s been a gym rat all her life and I think this is just in line of what her heart in­spires her to do. She’s very pas­sion­ate about bas­ket­ball.”

Sut­ton isn’t Sta­ley’s only for­mer player to play for the Glo­be­trot­ters. Fa­tima Mad­dox played for Sta­ley at Tem­ple and is known as TNT with the Glo­be­trot­ters. And there is an­other con­nec­tion sit­ting on the bench with Sta­ley these days; Game­cock as­sis­tant coach Jo­lette Law played for the Glo­be­trot­ters from 199194.

“My Glo­be­trot­ter ex­pe­ri­ence was prob­a­bly one of the high­lights of my ca­reer,” Law says. “I had the op­por­tu­nity to play with some phe­nom­e­nal guys and be able to rep­re­sent women across the board and also to bring smiles to peo­ple from all gen­er­a­tions, all sizes, shapes, coun­tries, na­tion­al­i­ties.

“When I think about my ex­pe­ri­ences and op­por­tu­ni­ties play­ing with the Har­lem Glo­be­trot­ters, I thank God I had the op­por­tu­nity to travel the world and to make an im­pact for women for all gen­er­a­tions.”

Law was the eighth woman to be­come a Glo­be­trot­ter. Sut­ton is one of seven women cur­rently on the Glo­be­trot­ters’ ros­ter of 51 play­ers.

Sta­ley says she didn’t teach Sut­ton any of her Glo­be­trot­ter tricks, but Sut­ton says Sta­ley taught her plenty that has helped her in the years since she grad­u­ated from USC with a de­gree in broad­cast com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

“Coach Sta­ley taught me a lot,” Sut­ton says. “Any­thing bas­ket­ball re­lated, Coach Sta­ley al­ready knows it. She’s the great­est that ever played the game. I would like for her to teach me more stuff, hon­estly. I wish I could go back to col­lege, I wish I could go back and put on a Carolina uni­form.”

Sut­ton, who was tagged with the nick­name “Fan Fa­vorite” by for­mer USC as­sis­tant coach Nikki McCray-Pen­son, has been back to Colo­nial Life Arena once since those days, when she snuck in to watch a game from the up­per seats.

“I was in awe and was en­am­ored with how many fans were in those seats,” Sut­ton says. “I was just like, ‘Wow.’ I was tex­ting on my phone and a fan tapped me and said, ‘You’d bet­ter pay at­ten­tion. These are the Game­cocks.’

“It was a cool mo­ment to see how en­gaged and how se­ri­ous the fan base is now. It was amaz­ing to watch.”

Sut­ton is also in awe of wear­ing the red, white and blue Glo­be­trot­ters uni­form and be­ing able to ex­tend her pro­fes­sional bas­ket­ball ca­reer with the group known as “Am­bas­sadors of Good­will.”

“I en­joy be­ing able to be an am­bas­sador of

good­will, see the smiles and the laugh­ter,” Sut­ton says. “When I peek into the stands, ev­ery­one is hav­ing a good time, all the fam­i­lies are tak­ing pic­tures. We’re just mak­ing peo­ple feel good through this thing called life.

“It’s just good, fam­ily fun en­ter­tain­ment. It’s just amaz­ing. What I can ap­pre­ci­ate is the lead­er­ship of all the vet­eran play­ers, and just the op­por­tu­nity to travel and to con­tinue my pro­fes­sional bas­ket­ball ca­reer. It’s been re­ally fun.”

When she grad­u­ated from South Carolina, she thought her bas­ket­ball ca­reer might be over due to some in­juries. “But God kept show­ing me new op­por­tu­ni­ties. Ev­ery time I tried to quit play­ing bas­ket­ball, some­thing new would pop up in my email,” Sut­ton says.

She played pro­fes­sion­ally in six dif­fer­ent coun­ties, started an in­tern­ship pro­gram called Fan Fa­vorite Uni­ver­sity, launched her own cloth­ing ap­parel line named Fan Fa­vorite and re­cently self-pub­lished a book, “From the Projects to Fan Fa­vorite,” which is avail­able on her web site, the­fan­fa­vorite.net.

The Glo­be­trot­ters’ sched­ule is so in­tense, it’s difficult for her to re­mem­ber where she’s been the past few months. But she loves play­ing with the Glo­be­trot­ters, and makes sure to get out in the com­mu­ni­ties where they play.

“I love chil­dren and I love the youth,” Sut­ton says. “We get to visit schools and do as­sem­blies, and we go to hos­pi­tals and work with dif­fer­ent or­ga­ni­za­tions to re­ally give back to those com­mu­ni­ties. That’s what I re­ally love. And Coach Sta­ley taught me about that.”

The Glo­be­trot­ters have taught her how to spin the ball on her fin­ger, how to en­hance her drib­bling tricks (her spe­cialty) and how to make the Glo­be­trot­ter four-point shot.

“There are so many tricks, I don’t even know if we have names for them all,” Sut­ton says. “A lot of things I never knew were pos­si­ble with a bas­ket­ball, be­ing a Glo­be­trot­ter has taught me those things. So I’m grate­ful for that.

“I’m en­joy­ing be­ing on our Fan Pow­ered World Tour. I’m hon­ored to be an­other part of history.”

Photo cour­tesy of the Har­lem Glo­be­trot­ters

La’Keisha Sut­ton was Dawn Sta­ley’s first re­cruit at the Uni­ver­sity of South Carolina. Now, the 5-foot-9 guard from Tren­ton, N.J., is known as “Swish” with her new team.

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