Sugar Rodgers’ WNBA career has had an upward trajectory since she first stepped on the court for her rookie season in 2013.
After going 14th overall to Minnesota, graduating as the Georgetown University all-time leading scorer, for men’s or women’s hoops, Bill Laimbeer acquired the 3-point specialist for the rights to swap 2015 third round picks.
Rodgers was coming off a rookie season that saw her average 1.9 points per game and knock down 10 3-pointers on a deep Lynx squad that went on to capture its second league championship.
In New York, Rodgers found a larger role and more minutes. Although not a starter, she averaged 6.0 ppg and hit 24 threes, also working to establish herself as a reliable defensive option.
MAKING IT OUT
Liberty guard Sugar Rodgers has overcome a lot in her life to make it to the WNBA. Read her inspiring story about perseverance and escaping poverty.
Then in 2015, the Liberty played the first 10 games of the season without recently acquired guard Epiphanny Prince, and Rodgers stepped into the starting lineup five times, posting her first-career 20-point game and boosting her career averages once again.
If the early returns from the 2016 season are any indication, Rodgers is prepared to take another leap.
“I’m not surprised, I knew I was capable of doing this it was just about the opportunity,” said Rodgers after practice earlier this week. “I have the opportunity now, and I’m just taking advantage of it.”
Earlier in the preseason, Rodgers was asked a similar line of questioning about playing well in camp, and performing on the court. Stated modestly, she simply claimed that she knows she has the ability to be a star in the WNBA, it’s just about going out and executing.
That confidence grows from of all the training she has put in to prepare for this year, most of it with Director of Player Development Teresa Weatherspoon.
“She works, she’s put in a lot of work,” said Weatherspoon. “You know, when you are very confident in what you do, it matters. She’s confident in those shots, they are shots she takes every single day. When you put in that kind of work, you trust and believe in your training.”
According to Weatherspoon, the bulk of the individual work with Rodgers has actually centered around making her a more dynamic scorer. Three-point shooting has always been a strength, she led the Liberty with 41 3-pointers last season, and is within range shortly after dribbling over center court.
So being comfortable behind the 3-point line is not an issue. Enter Weatherspoon, forcing Rodgers to refine the other aspects of her game. Her handle, her ability to finish around the basket, move without the ball.
That development doesn’t come easy, or during the time the Liberty is on the court for practice every day.
“You want to explain to everyone what it is; it’s just the hard work,” said Weatherspoon. “It’s not the two hours she gets here in practice, it’s the hours before and afterwards. She is a worker behind closed doors.”
Through the Liberty’s first two games of the season, Rodgers is averaging 21.5 ppg. She posted a career-high 24 points in the win over Dallas last weekend, and knocked down a career-high six triples in the process, one off tying the Liberty single-game record.
She also averaged 6.0 rebounds, 3.5 steals and 2.5 assists per game, a big reason why the Liberty is 2-0 for the first time since 2011, and numbers that are reflective of a complete player, not just a spot up 3-point shooter.
“I go hard at practice, sprinting the floor. Just always in game mode. Even when I come back at 6 p.m. and work with Spoon, I’m going as hard as I can because it makes the game easier.”
Rodgers and the Liberty will look to extend the hot start in a marquee early season matchup against the Los Angeles Sparks on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden at 6 p.m.