Rashida Suber makes Coppin State a serious MEAC threat
By Neal Shaffer
This might come as a surprise to local college hoops fans, but the best guard in the state of Maryland this year doesn’t play for Gary Williams' Terrapins.
In fact, the best guard in the state doesn’t even play for Loyola, UMBC or Towson. No offense to the fine individuals who man those positions, but the thing is, the best guard in Maryland doesn’t “man” any position.
That’s because she’s a woman.
Rashida Suber is on pace to become Coppin State's all-time leading scorer.
Her name is Rashida Suber, and she plies her trade in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference for coach Derek Brown’s Coppin State Eagles. While she’s not exactly a household name -- not yet, anyway -- she’s precisely the kind of player who makes college basketball such an exciting game.
“At any time she can have the ball in her hands and do things that are special,” Brown said.
The 5-foot-8 senior from Reading, Pa., arrived at Coppin State with the kind of résumé that would widen any coach’s eyes.
She led her Reading High Red Knights to two prep league titles and 93 wins over her four-year career. Her 21.5 points per game average during her senior year helped cap off a 2,111-point career total, which ranks third all-time in Berks County. She was a two-time All-State honoree and won Berks County Player of the Year as a senior.
She’s widely regarded as one of the best to ever play in Berks County. Her hometown paper, the Reading Eagle, once referred to her as “the M.J. of the Berks League,” and quoted an opposing coach who said, “She’s as good as any of the male point guards in the county.”
It’s heady stuff, to be sure. But as is often the case, Suber’s path has not been without its difficulties.
In 2001, she was forced to sit out the Berks Girls League playoffs after being ruled academically ineligible. She rebounded to put up a characteristically great season the next year, but it wouldn’t be the last time academic issues would haunt her.
In fact, she wasn’t actually supposed to end up at Coppin at all.
“One of my assistant coaches had watched her play in [Amateur Athletic Union] games, and we inquired about her, and it was said she was going to go to Marshall,” Brown said.
Rashida Suber plans to continue her basketball career after she graduates from Coppin State.
She actually made it all the way to the Marshall (W.Va.) University campus for the start of her freshman year. Shortly thereafter, however, she was once again deemed academically ineligible. She left Marshall and headed back home. Recognizing the need for a talent like Suber’s to find a new home, her high school coach contacted Brown’s assistant and said, “We need to get her out of Reading.”
Rider University also showed some interest, but Brown found her a scholarship spot at Coppin State.
Even with her enrollment situation settled, it wasn’t as simple as just showing up at a new school and lacing up her sneakers. Suber was still required to sit out her freshman year while she got her grades up. That meant not being a part of the team -- not practicing with the other players or learning their schemes. Not playing organized basketball, the overarching passion of her life since age 12, for an entire year.
Sitting out that year “was extremely hard,” Suber said. Not only for the lack of basketball, but because in addition to being ineligible to participate with the team, she was nursing an injury.
“It set me back,” she said.
That doesn’t mean it was a bad thing. The time off afforded Suber a chance to recognize that she needed to put education first, and she spent her down time doing everything she had to do to get ready to play.
Suber is polite and unassuming, but nonetheless intense. She comes across as the sort of person who could accomplish anything on a basketball court and who is more comfortable doing it than talking about it.
“This is the thing I love about Rashida,” Brown said. “Once she got here, she found that she had to do a little work and she had to get down to business, she did it. We never had another academic problem from her. She will graduate.”
Since putting her academic issues behind her, Suber has picked up right where she left off at Reading.
Her very first appearance in a Coppin State uniform set the stage. The Eagles were at UMBC, and Suber was on the bench.
“We were struggling a little bit until she entered the game,” Brown said. “We knew she was a talented player, but we didn’t know how confident she was. She just came in and lit it up. It’s been that way ever since.”
It’s been that way and then some. Suber has torn through the MEAC in her four years at Coppin, amassing a body of work consistent with her accomplishments in high school.
In her freshman year, Suber served as the team’s top bench player en route to four MEAC Rookie of the Week selections and a spot on the MEAC All-Rookie team.
Now, as a senior, she will become the Eagles’ all-time leading scorer with only five points to go. She is already first all-time in steals (258) and three-pointers (214), and she holds Coppin single-season records for points (623), three-point baskets (105) and steals (98). She was named the 2006-07 MEAC Player of the Year, then followed that up by earning the preseason version of that same award before this season.
Impressive as her statistics are, however, for Suber it’s not all about numbers.
“I love the sport,” she said. “This is my life. I love it. I put my full dedication into it all the time.”
That dedication manifests itself in a rock-solid work ethic that has earned her unanimous respect of her teammates and coaches.
“I always tell myself, 'You get what you put out.' If I work hard in practice, I’ll work hard in the game,” Suber said. “We’re trying to instill it in the team that hard work pays off. You’ve got to go hard.”
She describes herself as someone who leads more through action than words, but says that she has been able to “step outside of the box” and take on the responsibilities of a vocal senior leader.
“She understands,” Brown said. “She’s a very mature individual.”
Suber’s fellow senior and backcourt partner, Shalamar Oakley, echoes Brown’s feelings.
“She’s a good player, a good teammate, she works hard,” Oakley said. “She’s in the gym early, she leaves late. I think she rubs off on us as a team.”
Both Brown and Oakley also make sure to point out her talents as an all-around player. Despite gaudy scoring numbers, Suber has fashioned herself into one of the team’s best defenders. And like most great players, she has a fierce drive to compete.
Perhaps the best example goes back to December 2002, when Suber was still a senior at Reading. After an uncharacteristically bad performance in a 76-68 loss to McCaskey High School, Suber’s coach, Wynton Butler, publicly called her play “atrocious.”
“One player is destroying this team,” he said. “If she doesn’t get it together, we’re done.”
Suber’s response to the criticism arrived in the next game, a 69-54 win on the road against Hazleton High School. Suber put up a triple-double with 13 assists, 11 rebounds and a season-high 25 points.
The performance prompted a different response from Butler.
“That was the greatest game she’s ever played, without a doubt,” he said. “She was just unbelievable.”
It all wraps up this season, as Suber leads her teammates one last time into what the Eagles hope will be a conference championship and a NCAA Tournament berth. By the time April rolls around, the book will have closed on Suber’s amateur basketball career.
What happens after that? She’ll have a criminal justice degree in hand, but that can wait. In the meantime there’s more basketball to be played.
“The thing we’re looking at is the WNBA and probably overseas,” Brown said. “She’s the type of young lady [who] wants to continue playing basketball. I don’t think there are any expectations of going out and getting an eight-hour job.”
Oakley, likewise, believes her teammate will find success “on the next level,” hopefully in the WNBA.
Suber herself delicately deflects the question when asked about her WNBA prospects. The glint in her eye says she’s going to go for it, but she recognizes that playing in a foreign league may be a more realistic option.
Regardless of where she ends up, it’s a safe bet Suber will find success. That’s just the type of athlete -- and person -- she has shown herself to be. And when she finally does hang up her sneakers, it will only be because she has exhausted every other option and taken every shot she can find.
“I could play basketball forever,” she said. “That’s my goal, to be the only one to play basketball forever. Until I rot.”
Issue 3.3: January 17, 2008