Former Longhorns find new opportunities at home and abroad

13 Oct By

By the time Sutton was drafted and Higgs had signed, Washington was looking at his options. As an eighth-year assistant at Texas, Washington had been a key part of Aston’s staff, primarily coaching the wing players. But perhaps his biggest role had been as the team’s recruiting coordinator. Washington helped UT land former Big 12 Player of the Year Brooke McCarty, WNBA veteran Ariel Atkins and Imani Boyette, in addition to Higgs and Sutton.

When Aston was replaced by Vic Schaefer, who brought his staff from Mississippi State along with him, Washington became the girls' basketball coach at Mercy Academy in Louisville, Kentucky. 

“Mercy is traditionally a top-10 team in the state of Kentucky and we have a really strong team,” Washington said. “They’re young but super-talented. We are just going to continue to add to the tradition. There are some things I’m going to keep, some things I’m going to add. I’m looking to be one of the better teams in our region and compete to go to state.”

Former Texas assistant coach George Washington became the girls basketball head coach at Mercy Academy in Louisville (image courtesy of texassports.com).

A week prior and just over 900 miles south, Sutton had finally made her way to Bradenton. In mid-May, it had appeared that the chance to play in the WNBA had been lost, at least for 2020, when she was cut by Washington. The kicker? She never even got the opportunity to practice with the team. 

But Washington kept her on its short list of free agents in case a player got hurt or left the bubble. Sutton got that chance Aug. 19, when she played her first professional game alongside former UT teammate and current Mystics guard Ariel Atkins. 

“It was everything that I had ever imagined,” Sutton said. “Being Ariel’s teammate again just brought back those college memories. She is an amazing player, but an even better person and she was always there for me through my toughest times as a freshman and sophomore in college. So when I became her teammate again on the Mystics, it was the same exact thing. I was a freshman all over again learning a new system and she was always there to help me and give me words of encouragement.”

Signing with Embutidos Pajariel Bembibre P.D.M. meant Higgs had to move to her third country. Born in Harbor Island, Bahamas, Higgs grew up in a house with dirt floors and no running water, and sometimes no food on the table. Around middle school, her mother sent her to live with a cousin in Houston, where she first crossed paths with Washington. 

At Texas, George Washington served as an assistant coach and the Longhorns' recruiting coordinator (image courtesy of Texas Athletics).

Coaching at Westbury Christian, a TAPPS program in Houston, Washington and his wife, Jackie, were putting on a youth clinic at Fallbrook Church for kids in inner-city Houston as part of a community outreach program. While Higgs had never really played basketball, Washington saw the talent from the very beginning. He also saw someone who was majorly in need.

“Through the process of us getting to know her, she had a really, really bad dental emergency,” said Washington in a Longhorn Network feature in March. “So we called her mother and I said we want to take care of Lashann as long as she is here, at school and in the states.”

When Higgs' mother died in 2013, Washington and his family officially adopted Higgs, who by that point had been living with the Washingtons for over a year. 

"It happened so quickly," Higgs told Longhorn Network when talking about becoming part of the Washington family. "There were a lot of mixed emotions at the time."

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As Higgs was beginning her first pro season in Spain, Sutton was rapidly heading finishing her rookie season, in which she played in 13 games. The Mystics headed into the postseason for a one-game playoff against the fifth-seeded Phoenix Mercury, which eliminated the Mystics.  

Sutton had little time to dwell on the postseason disappointment, and had a plane to catch ... to Poland, to play with Ślęza Wroclaw in Basket Liga Kobiet, the highest level of competition in Poland. 

Former UT guard Sug Sutton followed her WNBA rookie season by signing with Ślęza Wroclaw in Poland (image courtesy of Ślęza Wroclaw).

Sutton already has noticed differences between the styles played in the U.S. and overseas, differences that will help prepare her for her second season in the WNBA next summer. 

“The overall competition is pretty good,” Sutton said. “It is not as competitive as the WNBA. However, it is a league that will allow me to grow as a player and get better. It is also a fast-pace game, which I am very familiar with and enjoy. The most noticeable difference has been getting accustomed to a whole different culture and understanding the play of overseas ball. It’s tough coming to a country to play basketball and there’s only two or three Americans on the team that you can relate to and understand. In the WNBA, that was different for me because I’m used to the style of play and you have more players on the team that you can relate to and understand. However, I have enjoyed the experience so far and can’t wait to see what the rest of the season has in store for this team.”

Sutton’s first season in Poland will conclude in March, the same time when she was preparing for the NCAA Tournament while on the Forty Acres. When she heads back to the States in early March, the WNBA should expect an improved player, especially on defense, an area in which she emulates Atkins, a three time All-WNBA Defensive Team player. 

“One goal that I have set for myself going into this first season overseas is to become a better on-ball defender,” said Sutton, “It is one part of my game that will separate me and I am willing to take on the challenge.”

Meanwhile, Higgs has solidified herself as a dangerous force on the wing for Embutidos Pajariel Bembibre P.D.M., which won its first game of the season Saturday. Higgs is third on the team in minutes (26.0 per game), second on the team in field goal percentage (58 percent) and was named the league’s MVP of the fourth day of the season after scoring 28 points in a 79-74 loss. 

Lashann Higgs scored 22 points as Embutidos Pajariel Bembibre P.D.M. lost a close contest (image courtesy of Club Baloncesto Bembibre P. D. M.)

Overall, her experience in Spain so far has been an enjoyable one, both on and off the court. 

“My favorite thing so far would be learning about the culture here and meeting new people,” Higgs said. “My goals would be to help my team win as much as possible and to have a great season individually as well. 

There have been some notable differences between the styles of play in Spain as compared to what Higgs was used to playing in the United States.

“Some of the differences I would say that I had to adapt to would be the physicality of the game. It’s more intense in that aspect and it’s something that you have to adjust to very quickly.”

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Riley Zayas is a high school freshman and freelance journalist from Round Rock, Texas. He began his journalism career as a Sports Illustrated Kids reporter and has since become a regular contributor to Horns Illustrated, covering Texas Longhorn sports. His work also includes Fellowship of Christian Athletes publications, his personal blog 360 Sports, and Sports Spectrum, a national christian sports website.