WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Lacey Suggs is not someone who is used to watching from the sidelines. Since her youngest days battling older brothers Jake and Luke in sports, Lacey has spent most of her time involved in the action on the court, the diamond and the pitch. She is a competitor, with a motor that never seems to run low on fuel. That’s why the Bladen County native’s first year as a walk-on at UNC Wilmington was such a dramatic change.
“I was used to playing a lot and playing in front of a lot of people,” says the Seahawks’ senior co-captain. “Going to sitting on the bench, and not seeing a lot of fans. I guess I wasn’t expecting it, honestly. I wasn’t expecting the atmosphere to be like that.”
Lacey had won nearly every award possible during her career at East Bladen High School. She played four sports, but excelled with Coach Patty Evers’ basketball team, finishing with a 106-11 record in her four years. Newspapers in Wilmington and Fayetteville named her as ‘Player of the Year’ as a senior, when she led Eagles to a 31-1 mark. She finished runner-up for North Carolina Female Athlete of the Year. But along the way, Lacey hedged on whether she wanted to play basketball on the next level.
“I made up my mind I wasn’t going to play anything,” she said. “I was just going to go to school. That’s what I had in my head. Then something clicked. I went to a UNCW game my senior year of high school, and I said to myself ‘I think I want to do this. I don’t want to not do it and regret it when I get older’. I talked to Coach Evers about it. She made the call, and (UNCW) coach (Adele Harris) allowed me to walk on.”
The Suggs’ family has a history at UNCW. Lacey’s father Mike attended the school, and so did one of her brothers. So, she enrolled, began work toward a degree in exercise science, and laced up to play for the Lady Seahawks. But halfway through that first season, the 18-year-old found herself in unfamiliar territory. More bench-time, less playing-time.
“At Christmas break, I remember thinking to myself, ‘we get a month break, no one’s at school. So, do I want to be stuck here doing something that I’m not enjoying at all? Do I want to go home and just say ‘forget it’?” Lacey remembers. “Something told me, ‘No Lacey, just stay, stick with it.' So, I stuck with it throughout the year, and things changed.”
After that 2016-17 season, Adele Harris left the program, and UNCW hired Karen Barefoot to take over the program. She wanted to play an up-tempo, all-out style of basketball, a better fit with Lacey’s attributes. The sophomore’s hustle and all-out attitude paid off immediately, impressing the new coach to name her one of the team’s co-captains.
“I was kind of nervous (when Coach Barefoot took over),” Lacey admitted. “I feel when a new coach comes in and looks at past players like ‘what did they do?’ Looking at the paper they’re going to see nothing on me from freshman year. I just had to go in there and prove myself every single day. She called me and said, ‘you’re one of my favorite players!’”
Lacey led the team in scoring as a sophomore and appeared in all 31 games. That Christmas, just one year after she contemplated walking away from the game, Coach Barefoot rewarded Lacey with a full athletic scholarship at a team gathering in front of her parents and Coach Evers. Video of the presentation still lives on social media. Lacey talks about the surprise at 19:30 of the podcast.
“I’m so thankful she took the time to set that up for me,” Lacey says about Coach Barefoot. “Reaching out to my parents was special, and my coach. They came all the way from home to see it. All the players being there, and having them speak about me, and they’re proud of me and coach is proud of me, it was really sweet for them to do that.”
As a junior, Lacey became one of the players UNCW used to promote the women’s basketball program. Her picture appeared on posters and fliers. Even on the side of a Wilmington Transit bus, which she laughingly talks about at 22:15 of the podcast. Now entering her senior season, Lacey has set a goal of becoming a more vocal leader for the team, while also improving her on-court skills. Whether she pursues playing professionally is still to be determined. There is a possibility the NCAA will grant Lacey one more year of college eligibility, since she played just seven minutes in three games as a freshman. The university must file an appeal to get that year back for Lacey. Whether it happens is out of her control, she says. The 5’10” guard has her sights set on leading this year’s team to a conference championship and post-season appearance, while also hoping to inspire others through her hard work and success.
“I’m glad my story did go out that way, showing people, you know, never give up, no matter what,” she says. “Even if you want to, don’t do it. You can do anything you set your mind to, and hard work does pay off.”
You can watch Lacey and the Lady Seahawks host an exhibition game against Lenoir Rhyne on Saturday, October 26. The team’s 2019-20 home opener at Trask Coliseum is three weeks later, November 16, against South Carolina State.
You can hear my full interview with UNCW Women’s Basketball co-captain Lacey Suggs by clicking on any of the links below.
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