Houma native Sumar Leslie has been through hell and back with the game of basketball.
She’s laughed, cried, smiled and has seen the darkest of the devil’s darks and the brightest of God’s brights.
Her last experience was a microcosm of the journey — all wrapped into 6 months. It was good because she played as well as she’s ever played in her career. It was bad because it ended in excruciating injury that required sophisticated surgery and a prolonged rehab and recovery.
But now, her body is back right, and she said she’s here to play until the wheels fall off — and she believes that’s not going to happen anytime soon.
The area’s first-ever women’s professional basketball player is back healthy after suffering a severe elbow injury in 2017 while playing in Australia — an injury that some medical professionals thought would be the end of her career.
They were wrong.
Leslie still has the battle scars from that day, and her left arm doesn’t quite extend into a straight line like the right.
But on the floor, one could never tell, because Leslie still razzles, dazzles and does everything she used to do — something she says is all because of God’s grace.
Leslie went to Las Vegas recently and competed in a combine to showcase to overseas teams that she’s still got the goods. She’s receiving interest from teams around the world, and in the coming months, she hopes to begin another tour.
Leslie said all she wants is a chance — one shot to keep playing the game she loves.
“I just want an opportunity,” Leslie said. “Just one chance to show what I can do — what I know I can do. I’m working hard, I’m staying positive, and I’m getting in as good a shape as I’ve ever been in. I just need one opportunity.”
That Leslie would even want to look at a basketball after her professional experience shows this young woman’s true love for the game.
Leslie is a local stud. She re-wrote Vandebilt Catholic’s record books, then went to UL-Monroe, then Nicholls and had success at both stops.
From Nicholls, Leslie went to Puerto Rico in 2012 and played well, but lived in conditions that she said were eye-opening — an impoverished area that lacked the things we, in the U.S. take for granted.
“People rode horses to get where they wanted to go,” Leslie said. “You don’t realize how blessed you are until you see life in other places.”
Leslie had another chance at Puerto Rico in 2014, but she got hurt. Playing for the Louisiana Bayou Angels (a showcase team), she got a steal, then stormed down the court for a 1-on-1 layup try. When she jumped, the defender’s hip contorted her body, causing her to loose her balance. When she landed, all of her weight crashed onto her left leg, fracturing it.
The 2014 season was now a wash, though Leslie stayed undeterred, saying she refused to let negative energy bring her down.
So she kept working.
She got healthy, opened her The Young Generation (TYG) basketball training, then got another shot.
It was in Australia with the Werribee Devils in 2017.
Leslie was the best player in the league and was undoubtedly going to win the Big V MVP award. She averaged 23.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 6.1 steals per game for Werribee, shooting 53.9 percent from the field and 45.0 percent from the 3-point line.
Leslie was riding high and gaining fanfare in Australia. Her team was in first place in the league and was the odds-on favorite to win the League Championship.
But then, disaster struck again.
In the opening minutes of a game, Leslie reached for a ball, then lost her balance. She fell, and as she attempted to brace her fall, she extended her arm on instinct. Her weight extended onto her elbow, and shattered it. Immediately, Leslie said she got up, tried to shake her arm, but knew something was drastically wrong.
“I couldn’t feel anything,” Leslie said. “My heart froze and my whole body went numb. All of hard work … just like that, it was all gone.”
She dislocated her elbow (a Grade III fracture), shattered her radial head and needed multiple opinions from some of the best sports orthopedists in Australia before getting surgery.
The surgery was a success, but it was no guarantee that she’d ever regain her ability to play.
Always an optimist, Leslie said she did something in Australia that she never has done.
For months, she said she’d lay in her bed at night, stick her pillow in her face and cry — wondering why she had to get hurt at the best time in her career, while also wondering why she had to endure so much pain alone while 10,000 miles away from friends and family.
“I didn’t understand it,” Leslie said. “Why did it all have to get taken away from me — after all that work? It hurt. It was a deep pain — as hurtful as anything I’ve ever had to go through in my entire life.”
But now, Leslie said she thinks she knows the answer.
She believes God gave her the injury to show her that even the best blessings should be cherished because at any time they can be taken away.
She sat out the 2018 season to recovery and is now healthy.
At the showcase, she held her own and competed with some of the elite collegiate players in the country.
And now, at age 29, Leslie said she wants to show that she still has the chops to compete at elite levels.
Leslie’s only residual from the elbow injury is a joint that doesn’t fully extend into a straight line like her other arm does, but she can handle the ball, defend and shoot — all the same way that she used to.
If the phone rings, Leslie said she will answer it and go play.
And if it never does, that’s OK, too, because to her, it’s just about mentally knowing in her mind that she’s played out her career as hard as she could without regrets — doing every, single thing possible to make the most of it for as long as she could.
“I love the game and I’m going to play as long as I can,” Leslie said. “I’ve been through a lot, but what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger, right? Well, I’m still here, so that must mean I’m stronger than I’ve ever been.”