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, won’t be joining her current teammates at Colonial Life Arena on Friday, Jan. 11, she will be performing with the world famous exhibition basketball team when they play in North Charleston on Saturday, Jan. 12, and in Florence on Sunday, Jan. 13.
Sutton is as disappointed as many USC fans that she won’t be at Colonial Life Arena with her Globetrotter teammates, but she encourages everyone to see the show.
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“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 1991-94.
“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 countries, 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 website, 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.”