Genes gave Largo High School senior Candace Sutton the size to be a dominant girls basketball player. She has had to take care of the rest.
So far, the 6-foot-5 All-Met has done an impressive job. She averaged 17.1 points and 10 rebounds a game last season to lead the Lions to an 18-3 record and the Prince George's 4A regular season co-championship. She has orally committed to play next season at the University of North Carolina.
"She's dominating on the inside," teammate Adrienne Harris said. "I've never played against her and wouldn't want to. She takes over. She runs the game. She can take any center out there to school."
A player does not get this far on height alone.
Basketball "started out as just an activity, with me being taller than everyone else," Sutton said. "In the beginning I wasn't really into basketball, but then I grew to love the game. God showed me that was where my gift and talent was and that's where he was going to use me. I realized that and worked hard toward it."
Both height and skill are family traits. Not only is Sutton's mother 6 feet 2 inches tall, her cousin is 6-10 Orlando Magic center Chris Gatling.
"It runs in the family," Sutton said. "I don't see [Gatling] often. He gives me pointers, tells me how to get in position for rebounds, different moves and stuff."
Sutton made her Largo varsity debut in her freshman season, when Coach Bob Blair called her up from the junior varsity after Christmas break. Ever since, Blair has watched her improve.
"I have seen her develop over the years as just one of the most dominating players," Blair said. "Especially from the standpoint of understanding the game. She really has a good grasp of the game. She has great fundamentals, great skills, she works on her game and she's just becoming an all-around great ballplayer."
At 6-5, Sutton towers over not only her parents (Sutton's father is 6-2) but most every basketball player in Prince George's County.
"My size is a big advantage," Sutton said. "The average tallest person [on a girls team] in P.G. County is maybe about 6 feet, 6-1."
When you add her attitude to her altitude, Sutton has an even bigger advantage.
"With Candace, it seems as though she's a born leader," Blair said. "The girls look up to her and respect her. And she respects her teammates. Consequently, they look to her as the go-to person. And she wants to be the go-to person.
Most of the time, if it's a close game, it will be Candace that ends up with the ball."
Said Harris: "Candace is wonderful to play with. She's easy to get along with and a great leader on the floor. Her skills show for themselves, and her attitude is always calm. She always represents Largo well."
Sutton and the Lions start the season with the memory of last season's conclusion--a loss in the 4A South regional semifinals. Largo was eliminated from the postseason by Suitland, the team with which it shared the county 4A regular season title.
"This year, our plan is to win the state championship," Sutton said. "Our starting five and team captains have discussed this. We're going to work hard, carry the team and motivate as team captains. We're looking to go all the way this year."
Sutton must wait to get started. She sprained her right ankle in practice on Nov. 30 and was expected to miss the Lions' season opener last night. The injury, however, is not serious, and she is expected to return for Friday's game against Crossland.
"It's been really aggravating and frustrating having to just watch and cheer," Sutton said. "But I can't let it get to me. I'll get better, go out there and play."
If Sutton continues to excel, she can continue to dream of a professional basketball career--just like her cousin.
"After college, God willing, I would like to play in the WNBA," she said. "If not, I'd like to coach. My coaches have been an inspiration to me. I'd like to help people out."
CAPTION: Largo's All-Met center Candace Sutton, who is 6 feet 5, learned how to play tall with pointers from her cousin, 6-10 Orlando center Chris Gatling.