COLUMBIA — Jarrett Sutton’s moment came in a blowout win over Chattanooga on Nov. 17.
With the Tigers up 28 and a little more than 3 minutes remaining, the ZouCrew started chanting, “Put in Sutton.” Missouri coach Mike Anderson obliged.
What was a mundane moment to many, was the pinnacle of years of work for Sutton. He was understandably nervous. He took his first career shot, a 3-pointer, with 1:38 to go. Airball.
Sutton isn’t the type to let failure stand in his way. If he were, he wouldn’t be on the team. He fired another 3-point shot, and this one splashed through the net.
Sutton’s bucket brought the student section to its feet.
His moment of fame lasted for only a few seconds. But how Sutton earned it is a story of perseverance and chance.
A player who wants to walk on only has a couple of hours on a Monday afternoon to show that he belongs on the team. Anderson doesn’t even come to the tryout, trusting his assistants to make the decision. Sutton, a sophomore at MU from Kansas City, tried out for the team his freshman year. The coaches cut him.
He wasn’t going to put himself through that disappointment again this year. No need to waste the time. Then one casual workout at the MU Student Recreation Complex changed everything.
Sutton was shooting around by himself when Missouri’s coaches asked if he wanted to play in a pickup game with them. The coaches play in a noon game with a group of professors. Anderson and Sutton ended up guarding each other, and Sutton scored a few times against the coach.
“He’d get real competitive with it,” Sutton said. “It was fun.”
Sutton continued to play with the coaches for the next couple weeks. Anderson was impressed with Sutton’s shooting stroke. After one of the games, director of basketball operations Jeff Daniels encouraged Sutton to attend the tryout.
“I wasn’t even going to do it this year, but then after playing with them, I think they kind of knew what I could do, so I gave it one more shot,” Sutton said.
His familiarity with the coaching staff diffused some of the pressure of trying out. He impressed the assistant coaches, and they asked him to come to practice.
But Sutton still had some work to do. He had to show he could compete with the rest of the Tigers before he could officially join the team.
Anderson also wanted to give Sutton some time to think about whether he was dedicated to making the necessary commitment to the team.
“You don’t get all the glory,” Anderson said. “Then to come in and go through the brutal workouts and conditioning and a lot of times you might not even play.”
It was not a difficult decision for Sutton.
“I talked to my parents and family about it, and it’s just one of those opportunities you can’t pass up,” Sutton said.
He practiced with the team the Saturday after the tryout, and Anderson let him know he was on the team later that night.
Sutton is a business major at MU, and Anderson has made it clear that academics are still Sutton’s first priority. Sutton misses practice on Wednesdays because he has a calculus class at night.
“It’s definitely a challenge,” Sutton said. “But my professors have been real cool with it. Some of them are basketball season-ticket holders, so that helps a little bit.”
Sutton’s teammates have made a point of welcoming him. Shortly after learning he had made the team, Sutton left his Facebook page open on a computer in the locker room. It didn’t take long before his teammates made some alterations to his profile.
“The guys have been so great with me, all of my teammates,” Sutton said. “There’s not one person who I haven’t liked or anything. It’s just been great.”
Sutton hopes to push his teammates in practice. His personal goals are simple. He just wants to work hard and see where it takes him. He would love to earn a scholarship.
“Now that I’m here, I know this is what I always wanted,” he said. “All I can do really is just go as hard as I can and help the team, be an extra body.”
Playing basketball at Missouri was a childhood goal for Sutton, who grew up a fan of the Tigers.
He attended his first Missouri basketball game when he was in middle school with one of his two older brothers, both of whom went to MU. They saw Missouri beat Kansas at a packed Hearnes Center. They rushed the floor after the game, and Sutton had found his calling.
“That’s when I started taking basketball a little more seriously,” Sutton said. “I just loved the atmosphere.”
Sutton’s accomplishment is even more impressive considering he didn’t play organized basketball for a year and a half between his senior season at Oak Park High School in Kansas City and trying out for the Tigers. Sutton was a four-year letterwinner at Oak Park and was all-conference as a senior, but that was in 2007.
Maybe it was Sutton’s passion for the game that kept him working out. Even after the disappointment of his freshman tryout, he kept training.
This past summer, Sutton took thousands of shots in his parents’ driveway. He lifted weights with an assistant coach from his high school team and ran on his own. Sutton ran two to three miles each day in addition to running sprints. His father, Del Sutton, who has experience running marathons, told him to ease up.
“I noticed this summer he was really intense with working out again,” Del Sutton said. “We told him not to work out so hard. We came to the conclusion that he probably wasn’t going to continue with basketball.”
Jarrett Sutton didn’t initially tell his parents he was trying out. Del Sutton and his wife, Ellen, were surprised when their son told them he had been playing pickup basketball with Mike Anderson. They were even more surprised to learn that their son had made the team.
“I answered the phone and Jarrett said, ‘I think I might have made the MU basketball team,’” Del Sutton said.
Since that phone call, Del and Ellen Sutton have been keeping tabs on their son daily. They have been commuting from their home in Kansas City to games and talking to Jarrett Sutton after every practice.
Del and Ellen Sutton came to both of the Tigers’ exhibition games as well as their opening contest against Praire View A&M.
Anderson put Jarrett Sutton into the game for the final moments of the exhibition game against Missouri Southern. Sutton said he couldn’t believe it when assistant coach Melvin Watkins told him he was going into the game.
Anderson even called a couple of plays for Sutton, but the defense recognized what Missouri was trying to do.
“(The defense) wasn’t having much of it,” Jarrett Sutton said. “They knew it was coming to me.”
Jarrett Sutton’s parents missed the Monday night home game against Chatanooga.
Del Sutton is a retired high school music teacher, and for the past six years he has been volunteering on Monday nights to teach choir at Lansing Correctional Facility in Lansing, Kansas.
“I hated to miss that game,” Del Sutton said. “Those men even understood that too.”
Jarrett Sutton gave his parents a second chance to see him score in person on Dec. 2 in the Tigers’ 95-41 blowout win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff. He came into the game with the crowd chanting his name once again and missed his first two attempts badly. But he stuck with it and made two 3-pointers in the final 48 seconds.
Del and Ellen Sutton said they couldn’t believe the booming reaction from their son’s teammates and fans. After Jarrett Sutton’s first 3-pointer, the Tigers jumped up off the bench in celebration, obscuring Del Sutton’s view of the floor from his seat behind the bench.
“Everyone just went nuts,” Del Sutton said. “It was like winning a state title or something.”
Not to be outdone, the Suttons did plenty of celebrating of their own. Del Sutton said most of the fans sitting in his family’s section knew immediately they were Jarrett Sutton’s parents.
“We didn’t keep our composure very well,” Del Sutton said.
After the game, Del and Ellen Sutton told their son how proud they were. He told them how much it meant for them to be there.
Before their son walked onto the team this season, Del and Ellen Sutton had never seen a Missouri basketball game in person. When they brought their children to Columbia for games, they would drop them off at the arena and then watch from a restaurant.
Now, they will be spending much of their winter in Mizzou Arena, and they couldn’t be more excited about it.
“It’s just surreal,” Del Sutton said.