See “Sugar” while she’s still here

Published 9:27 pm Saturday, February 21, 2009

The play was pure Sugar, undiluted and a dagger to the heart of King’s Fork High’s opposition.

TaShauna “Sugar” Rodgers found herself triple-teamed and trapped in a corner Thursday against Nansemond River in a Southeastern District tournament semifinal. Boxed in by arms, legs and gritted teeth, she shouldered her way between two defenders and while falling forward, threw in a line-drive shot that electrified the crowd.

Just another play in another victory on another night for the best girls basketball player in Suffolk’s history.

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“It has to be hard when you do a great defensive job and she still makes an amazing shot,” said King’s Fork coach Garry Murphy. “We’re going to ride Sugar as far as we can.”

Time is running out for the area’s hoops aficionados to see such magic locally. Despite losing to Indian River in the district tournament final on Friday evening, Rodgers and the Bulldogs will host a regional playoff game Monday, but that’s a single-elimination tournament so there are no guarantees how many more contests No. 45 will suit up in maroon and gold. After that, her next official games will be with Georgetown University in the tough Big East Conference.

So seize this last chance to watch the gregarious, 5 foot 10 swing player in action. Take your children and show them how basketball can be played hard and with a little swagger while still having fun. Go watch the first McDonald’s All-American in city history, one of the country’s 24 best players.

“It’s going to be hard for a long time to compare anyone coming up to what she’s done,” said King’s Fork athletic director Randy Jessee. “She’s put girls basketball in Suffolk on the map.”

Jessee, who coached basketball for 22 years before becoming an administrator, admires the obvious things about Rodgers’ games – the athleticism, the court vision, the long-range shots and rebounding dominance. But he’s most impressed by her poise. Especially this season, when she’s King’s Fork’s only standout player, opposing teams make trying to stop her their top priority and often leave her bruised and covered in scratches.

“I’ve never seen her get real mad even when she’s got two or three players pounding on her,” Jessee said. “Even in the big pressure situations, she doesn’t get distraught.”

Perhaps that’s because Rodgers has been buffeted by emotional storms more fierce than any you’ll find on the hardwood. Her father, now in his 80s, is too frail to see her play and her mother died at 56 of an illness the family declines to disclose. Rodgers was 14 at the time and that she went on to become one of the country’s top young talents reveals her inner strength.

“She’s been through some tough situations in life,” said Tim Goetz, who coached King’s Fork during Rodgers’ first two varsity seasons. “Just like the rest of us, she’s not perfect, but she’s got a really good heart and I love her like my own daughter.”

Goetz, who used to enlist Rodgers to babysit his young children, will likely attend her King’s Fork graduation later this year. Western Branch coach Troy Terry joked he’ll be there as well, ecstatic that his team’s nemesis is moving on.

“She has so much confidence and physically, she’s ahead of 95 percent of the girls she plays against,” Terry said. “She can handle the ball like a point guard, she’s a great shooter and she rebounds like a center. She’s unstoppable.”

With a supporting cast that’s improved dramatically in the last month, Rodgers and the Bulldogs are a bit of a wildcard in the regional playoffs. Terry said if King’s Fork can find just a little more balance in its scoring, there will be few teams it can’t beat when its star is hot. At some point, however, the time will come when the program must soldier on without Sugar.

“Maybe I’ll be thinking about it more when we get closer to the end,” Rodgers said. “Right now, though, we still have games to play.”

Don’t let her get away, Suffolk. Seize this last chance to watch a sublime talent with the sweetest of games.