A living legacy of Faith, hope, love
When Faith Suggs pulled off her first spin move on the basketball court in sixth grade, beating a flailing opponent, she looked over at her father and mouthed one word.
"Ballet." It was ballet that gave Suggs the dexterity and flexibility to perfect what she still calls her "signature move."
And it was Faith's mother, Susan Hoster-Suggs, who insisted that her daughter mix dance lessons in with her passion for basketball.
Susan passed away at age 44 on Oct. 9, 2011, losing a nearly two-decade fight with cancer, but her spirit, her confidence and her poise still serve as constant companions for Faith.
"My mom was so independent and classy, in and out of the workplace," said Faith, 17, of Susan, who was the executive director for the Bolingbrook Park District in Illinois. "She held herself to a higher standard."
Faith, a 6-foot-1 junior guard at Homewood-Flossmoor (Ill.), is setting a very high bar, as well. She is the No. 30 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Super 60 for the 2015 class and has helped lift Homewood-Flossmoor to a 19-2 record and a No. 9 ranking in the espnW 25 Power Rankings. The Vikings are undefeated against teams from their state and have won 13 games in a row overall, many of them by lopsided scores.
Because of those blowouts, Faith's playing time is usually limited to roughly half the game, and her statistics -- 13.5 points and 5.5 rebounds -- don't seem overly impressive on the surface.
But college coaches have taken notice.
In September, coaches from Duke, Stanford, Georgia Tech, Illinois and Michigan made home visits to Faith and her family.
In addition, Faith, who got her first recruiting letter in eighth grade, has visited several colleges on unofficial visits, including Tennessee -- which was her favorite team growing up -- as well as Notre Dame, Michigan and Northwestern.
Faith, who has a 4.75 weighted GPA, plans to visit Stanford in May.
"The plan is to narrow my list down by the end of my high school season and to be committed by the end of summer so I can relax my senior year," said Faith, who hopes to become a lawyer or a sports agent.
"The main thing I'm looking for is academics -- a college that will prepare me for life after basketball. I also want a school that has a great history, either in terms of the basketball team or the coaching staff and the energy they bring."
Faith said location is not a huge concern because she knows her family will support her no matter where she goes.
That family includes her little brother, Devyn, 12, who is an aspiring basketball player in his own right, and her father, Shafer, 60, who played five years in the NFL as a defensive back, including four seasons with the New York Jets.
Shafer, who played basketball and football at Ball State, coaches Devyn's youth league team, the SHS Jets. SHS stands for Susan's initials, and the Jets are the team Shafer played for the longest.
Devyn, already 5-8, can often be seen holding hands with his sister.
"We have definitely gotten closer," Faith said. "He's like my best friend. He can tell me what I'm doing wrong on the court; he has been around the game almost his whole life. He knows what I need to work on, but he's also my No. 1 fan."
Shafer and Susan first met at the Pacific Club in Chicago, which was owned at the time by the now late, great Bears running back, Walter Payton.
The meeting occurred when Shafer noticed that Susan and her friend were pointing at him.
"As it turns out," Shafer said, "they thought I was Walter Payton."
Suggs wasn't Payton, but for Susan, he was even better.
"She was the first person I truly loved," Shafer said. "I was 38, and she was 24 -- God brought her into my life at the right time when I had a level of maturity to know enough to embrace her. She was confident, sensitive and extremely intelligent -- beautiful inside and out."
The couple married on Sept. 23, 1995, and 23 became their favorite number. They met on the 23rd of November, and Faith was born on 2/3 -- Feb. 3, 1997.
In fact, Faith and Devyn both wear No. 23 -- just like Shafer did with the Jets.
Legacy lives on
When Susan was five months pregnant with Faith, doctors discovered that a mole on her right leg contained melanoma. The mole was removed, along with part of her leg.
Because of that ordeal, Susan and Shafer decided to name their first-born "Faith," and that decision still carries a great deal of meaning.
"My name means a lot to me," Faith said. "I have so much faith in my family and in God, and I'm thankful that she was able to give birth to me. I'm thankful for everything I have."
Sadly, Susan's cancer returned in August 2011, when doctors discovered that the melanoma had spread throughout her body.
Two months later, she was gone.
Despite the pain of losing her mother way too young, Faith carried on and began her freshman season one month later.
Faith had a breakout year as a freshman, averaging 14 points and seven rebounds for Plainfield East (Ill.).
After Susan died, Shafer didn't want to make any major changes that might further disrupt the lives of his children. But after Faith's sophomore year at Plainfield East, in which she had another strong season with similar numbers, Shafer decided to downsize and move the family to Flossmoor.
At Flossmoor, Faith joined forces with Tony Smith, who has been her AAU coach since eighth grade.
Faith is still seeking her first state title, and, if she gets it, her first thoughts will be about her mother.
"I miss her a lot," Faith said. "I know she would have loved to have been there for my first varsity game or to see how tall Devyn is getting.
"But I just try to remember everything she taught me. Mostly, she told me to be confident and enjoy what I'm doing, and that's how I've tried to carry myself."