Sug-ar on top: Phoenix Mercury’s Sutton turning heads in WNBA return

Phoenix Mercury guard Sug Sutton has excelled in her first WNBA season since 2021, averaging 12.3 points off the bench through the first three games of the regular season. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – The final buzzer echoed amid cheers throughout Footprint Center as the Phoenix Mercury secured a 90-81 victory over the Minnesota Lynx, their first win of the regular season.

Player of the Game Sug Sutton was thrust into the moment. She was brought to center court after achieving a career-high 14 points, had a microphone placed in front of her face and was interviewed while surrounded by a circle of applauding teammates and an arena of supporters.

“I’m giving my team everything they need from me,” Sutton said to a raucous reaction from the reported 6,057 fans in attendance, “and we’re just having fun with it.”

The Mercury are a new-look team, with an entire half of their roster – Sutton included – having never played for the club before this season. This type of roster overhaul tends to create chemistry issues, while also creating unique opportunities.

The chemistry issues were on display during Phoenix’s first two losses, but to be personally honored after their first win as a unit is a testament to Sutton’s efforts as she has exhibited some of the best basketball of her young and unconventional career.

“I’m pretty comfortable,” Sutton, 24, said. “It’s been pretty easy for me. I’m taking it day by day, learning everything from these vets. They’re amazing to just learn from every single day, so I’m just taking it in and giving everything I have.”

After averaging 9.4 minutes in 12 games for the Washington Mystics during the 2020 bubble season, Sutton was waived during the ensuing training camp. The other 11 WNBA teams passed on her services, and her return to the league turned out to be a humbling two-year journey marked by injury and multiple overseas stints.

In December 2021, Sutton found a place in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) in Australia with the Townsville Fire. She managed to play 10 games before a back injury ended her season and kept her out of the 2022 WNBA training camps, which forced her to miss a second consecutive WNBA season.

After regaining her health, Sutton moved home to St. Louis and played in a semi-pro league, staying ready and waiting for her opportunity.

Last offseason, Sutton decided to go overseas again, this time to Poland. During that time, she learned about her path back to the WNBA through a long-distance phone call.

“(My agent) called me and was like Phoenix (wants) you to come to training camp,” Sutton said. “I was excited, I was crying. The first thing I did was call my family, because they’ve been in my corner since day one. It was just a really really good accomplishment for me. I knew that in that moment I needed to take advantage of that opportunity just to show all the hard work I’ve put in.”

Sutton had limited time to get acclimated to her new team and impress enough to earn consistent regular-season minutes with training camp starting on April 30 and opening night scheduled for May 19.

Having played 90 of a possible 120 minutes in three Mercury games, including 28 of 30 fourth-quarter minutes, it’s safe to say Sutton has cemented her role as the schedule begins to pick up.

She never reached the 10-point threshold in 12 games with the Mystics, yet Sutton has averaged 12.3 points through three games for Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard.

“Sug’s been fantastic,” Nygaard said. “Coming in as a training camp player, we weren’t sure, but she did have a great overseas season this last year, so we had high expectations, and she’s definitely exceeded them. She’s a dynamic scorer, she can get to the rim, she defended really really well in our last game. I think she’s going to be a tremendous player for our team this season.”

Any familiarity becomes of the utmost importance when joining a new team in the midst of a roster overhaul, and Sutton has another unique advantage in this case.

Sophie Cunningham, a fifth-year guard out of Missouri who is one of three players to see game time for the Mercury in back-to-back seasons, is a childhood friend of Sutton. They met in the fifth grade and played in youth development leagues and USA basketball together in the St. Louis area.

Cunningham has been working her way back to 100% after a knee injury, but she and Sutton are looking forward to tapping into their on-court chemistry this season.

“It’s kind of all about opportunity in this league,” Cunningham said. “She got drafted to some tough teams that had a lot of point guards and guards. But we’re lacking those positions, so she’s had this opportunity. She’s killing it so far, and I’m just proud of her. When she puts her head down and she works, the sky’s the limit for Sug.”

Sutton’s points average leads all WNBA bench players, and her 2.7 assists rank third among that group.

Her skills were on full display in last Thursday’s win over the Lynx, which included a highlight play worthy of SportsCenter’s Top Ten:

It has been an unpredictable road for Sutton since being drafted by the Mystics. Nobody could have expected she would go from being cut to becoming a regular staple in the Mercury’s rotation, but if there’s one thing she continues to prove, it’s that she’s going to keep putting in the hard work and never back down.

“You never know when the opportunity is going to come,” Sutton said. “I got this opportunity, and I took advantage of it. I worked hard throughout the years just to get back here, and it’s been a dream come true.”

On Friday, Sutton returns to action at Footprint Center as the Mercury look to carry the momentum from their first win in a rematch of their season opener against the Los Angeles Sparks.

Josh Bootzin jaw-sh boot-zin (he/him)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Josh Bootzin expects to graduate in December 2023 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. He receive bachelor’s of arts degrees in statistics and creative writing from the University of Pittsburgh in 2021 and hopes to build a career in data journalism around proficiencies in statistics, print journalism and a love for sports.