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Rather than face the basket toward the house and play on dirt in the front yard, Rodgers and her neighbors always turned the hoop around so they could play games in the middle of the street, on concrete. Cars drove through the court, but play never stopped.

Local police would pass by and ask the children to stay out of the street, and they always obeyed. But when the cops drove around the corner, out of sight and out of mind, Rodgers flipped the hoop around and the games continued.

Sugar and Barbara Mae

Rodgers‘ older sister, Sharon, was in prison for 10 years when Rodgers was growing up, leaving their mother, Barbara Mae, to raise two children and three grandchildren in a cramped, three-bedroom home off Second Avenue.

Barbara Mae and Rodgers were inseparable, and Barbara Mae was always extra nice to her youngest daughter. As a former basketball player at Booker T. Washington High School, she saw in Sugar pieces of herself.

“She was mean to my brothers and them,” Rodgers said with a smile, “and I liked that.”

Rodgers used to be an avid golfer but started focusing on basketball in eighth grade, during which she averaged nearly 30 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists per game. She also played AAU ball for Williams, a nationally renowned coach and brother of then-Georgetown coach Terri Williams-Flournoy.

“You’ve got to come down and see this kid,” Williams-Flournoy remembered her brother saying. “I know she’s young, but I think you’ve got to come see her.”

In 2005, Barbara Mae was diagnosed with lupus and moved to a nursing home shortly thereafter. Bills began piling up and DeShawn tried to support the family by selling drugs. He was arrested and charged with possession and intent to distribute cocaine, and the house was condemned.

Rodgers visited her mother in the nursing home often. Then on July 14, two months before Rodgers‘ first day at King’s Fork High School, Barbara Mae died. She was 56.

“It caused [Sugar] to not really express her feelings a whole lot to people. It took a minute for her to really, really, really cry,” said Sharon Rodgers, who was in prison at the time. “She channeled it out with basketball. Everything that she was going through went towards playing basketball.”

Rodgers arrived at King’s Fork and immediately became one of the most dominant players the region has ever seen. She was a four-time team MVP and a three-time conference Player of the Year, a McDonald’s All-American who graduated with school records in career points, rebounds, assists and blocks.

Her crowning achievement, however, may have come at the 2007 AAU Nike Nationals. Rodgers came off the bench in every game for the Suffolk Blazers — and still was named the tournament MVP.

“Never in my 30 years of basketball did I have a kid get MVP who didn’t start,” said Williams, whose past players include Allen Iverson and Alonzo Mourning. “We’ve had nine lottery picks, two No. 1 picks and nobody ain’t never done that.”


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