Tianna Sugars, who graduated from Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in 2016, recently returned to Maine from Scotland, where she spent the winter season playing competitive basketball and coaching youth with the Falkirk Fury. She now plays for the LA Maples, a start-up team in the Women’s American Basketball Association. Submitted photo

AUBURN — Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School alumnus Tianna Sugars, by her own account, came late to the sport of basketball.

As a child, she often shot hoops with her father Dwaine, but her shyness kept her from participating in the sport beyond her home. That changed in fifth grade when her mother Christina signed up Tianna to play on an Oxford Hills basketball travel team that was coached by Troy Eastman.

Sugars soon was hooked on the sport and has not stopped playing since, dribbling and shooting her way through middle school to the girls varsity team at Oxford Hills and then to Colby-Sawyer College in New London, New Hampshire, where she majored in sports management.

Now she’s chasing her NBA dream.

Since graduating from college, Sugars has been open to every available opportunity to continue making her mark on basketball. It has taken her as far away as Scotland, where she played professionally for the Falkirk Fury, a basketball club with teams from development to national play, and also has included working as a coach to younger players.

After returning from her season in Scotland, Sugars heard about a new basketball team — the Lewiston-Auburn Maples — from her friend and former summer league teammate Allie Goodman, a first-year semipro team within the Women’s American Basketball Association.


“When I got back from Scotland, Allie called to tell me she had joined the team, that they needed more post players and she would love to play with me again,” Sugars told the Advertiser Democrat. “Then she called the coach (Jim Seavey), and I went to a practice. And all of a sudden, I was on the team.”

The Maples played their inaugural game on July 10, an 83-39 win over the New England Trailblazers from Massachusetts. Sugars contributed six points to the victory. The Maples will play other Northeast-based teams during their first season; playoff games may extend to other regions..

Tianna Sugars coached 14-year-old girls in a Scotland basketball club last season. She said her team is excited to know that she talked about them to a U.S. newspaper. “They mean a lot to me and were my favorite part of my experience in Scotland,” she said. “They made it worth it.” Submitted photo


Because the level of play across the Atlantic Ocean is not as sophisticated as Sugars was used to, she has had to adjust quickly to her old form with the Maples.

She said Scotland’s national teams were not as disciplined and played a different style from what Sugars was accustomed. Also, the referees weren’t as rigid in their calls. She said that basic moves that would be penalized in the United States, like traveling, go uncalled.

Playing against less developed players did not help Sugars up her game on the court. Still, she says, her time in Falkirk helped her further develop her basketball IQ in other ways.


“I coached 14-year-olds in Falkirk,” Sugars said. “It taught me patience and made me a better coach. I had to explain things in different ways. Some of the lingo was different. It made me have to really use the coaching skills I learned in college, explaining a drill step by step, or form of shooting and mechanics. The fundamentals.

“I was nervous about it, but they loved me. The organization, the team, the parents — they really enjoyed having me as a coach and they wanted me to come back this year. I was planning to go, but then I found opportunities here in America. They really valued me, and needed that hardness on them. I taught them discipline. They weren’t running for a missed foul shot during practices.”


Playing for the semi-professional Maples is one opportunity that beckoned Sugars to stay in Maine this summer. Another is the Saco Sports Zone, where she is joining her coach at Oxford Hills, Nate Pelletier, to help develop players on travel teams.

Pelletier expects that his former player will go far playing and coaching basketball.

“Tianna has the ability to make everyone feel welcome on her team.  She understood that it took the collective abilities of her teammates to be successful,” Pelletier told the Advertiser Democrat in an email. “She has always wanted to have a career in basketball, whether that was playing or coaching. She has an incredible basketball mind and is a calming influence to her teammates during games. I am super proud of her pursuing her dreams in basketball.”


Sugars is pursuing that dream with the understanding that reaching her goals may require different avenues.

“This is a summer of change for me and my career,” she said. “I had planned on going to Scotland for two years to play and coach. But I’ll stay here between Old Orchard Beach and Lewiston. I’m meeting more people and, honestly, expanding my social skills because I’m still shy. As a coach, especially a high-profile coach at a Division I school or the NBA level, I’m going to need to learn how to talk better to others. I am developing my skills in one way or another.”

In addition to building her coaching resume as she eyes the big leagues, Sugars sees working with younger players as equally important to becoming a coach in the NBA.

“It can be scary to work out, especially for younger female athletes. I want the gym to be a safe place for them, for women to know it’s OK to be strong,” she said. “The opportunities for me in basketball are endless. I want to be a change-maker and a leader. To make an impact for kids in the field of basketball.”

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