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Poetic Justice: For Justice Sueing, it's more than just a name

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FEBRUARY 23, 2018

n the grand scheme of life, a driving test isn’t the most important assessment that an individual will face. Most likely, it won’t change where you go to college, what job you get or whether or not you eventually find love. But for someone who’s used to excelling at everything, that small failure can feel earth-shattering.

Justice Sueing isn’t used to failure. Not on the court, nor in the classroom, nor in life. So when he returned to his home after having failed the test to get his driver’s license, his father wasn’t surprised when he returned dumbfounded and astounded, proclaiming, “I’ve never failed at anything.”

That might make it sound like he’s been handed everything in his life, but in reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s more that he has figured out his individual recipe for success — which has made him one of the leading scorers on the Cal men’s basketball team as just a freshman forward — and it has rarely failed him.

hile Sueing’s ability to assess and digest a situation is undoubtedly an innate quality, it’s been aided by a philosophy of life that has been instilled in him by his family — and his name.

Sueing shares a name with his father, and while they aren’t arranged in a Sr.-Jr. binary, it nonetheless carries a family significance. To find the origins of this shared name, you’d have to go back two generations, to Sueing’s paternal grandfather, who fought for the United States in the Vietnam War.

When Sueing’s grandfather came back to the United States after fighting, he was disappointed and disheartened by the fact that the treatment he received as a Black man in this country hadn’t changed for the better.

The experience so deeply haunted the veteran that the family collectively decided to name the next male child born “Justice” — as a reminder to both treat others and demand to be treated in a just manner. The elder Sueing was fortunate to come next in the lineage, and when the time came for him to name his own son, he decided that the name carried enough gravity to be passed on to his son.

“(My father) doesn’t stand for things that aren’t fair, and he’s always looking to do the right thing — so he passed that on to me,” Sueing says. “It’s the same thing to me. He really taught me a lot of values, especially from a young age, that I carry on today.”

The name carries a special meaning for both the elder and younger Sueing, and it helps to guide them toward deliberate and meaningful ways of life.

“When I had my son, I thought that I wanted to give him a name with some meaning,” the elder Sueing says. “Plus, it’s how I was going to raise him — to be a certain type of person or try to direct him to be a certain individual.”

ueing and his father, though, share far more than just a name and an attitude — they share a love for the game of basketball. Sueing’s interest in the game was first piqued by and continued to blossom through watching his father, who played at the University of Hawaii and professionally abroad.

“What I really remember is watching my dad play professionally and at the parks in Honolulu; I think growing up watching him is where I first sparked my interest in basketball,” Sueing says.

Most kids start playing sports from an extremely young age, often before they can even accurately place one foot in front of the other. Sueing, however, didn’t start playing formal basketball until he was 10. That comparatively late start makes his rise all the more remarkable.

“Once he asked to play, right off the bat I could tell that he had something in him,” the older Sueing says. “Quickly, he went from not playing to being one of the best kids out there and playing with older kids.”

Sueing’s father could tell that his son possessed the talent that would lead him to the next level, but the elder Sueing didn’t make it easy on him.

“He coached me in elementary and middle school,” Sueing says. “It’s funny, cause he made the team for me, but he had me sitting on the bench a lot because I had to earn my playing time, which really taught me a lot from a young age about how to work hard.”Men's Basketball: California Golden Bears at Colorado Buffaloes

For most kids, being benched by the hybrid authority figure of a father-coach could be enough to turn them away from a sport forever. But Sueing, looking back, is good-natured about it — and it clearly had the effect of only pushing him harder to separate himself from the pack.

As he began to cruise past his peers in the chase for clout, it became evident that Sueing had the potential to play at the collegiate level — though that would mean a change of scenery. While Hawaii is known for its beautiful beaches and epic waves, it isn’t renowned as a breeding ground for basketball stars.

To gain the kind of recognition in high school that can earn someone a scholarship in basketball, a move to the mainland United States is far more advantageous. This landed Sueing at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California, one of the nation’s athletic powerhouses.

Thankfully for his family, although Sueing’s basketball career prompted the move, it made sense because of another family connection — this time on his mom’s side.

“I was supposed to move to California originally because my mom’s family was there,” Sueing says. “It wasn’t that big of a deal for my family, because they wanted to see me succeed, and they were willing to put me in any position to do that.”

The move proved to be far more beneficial than Sueing could have imagined, as it helped to carry him to where he is now. When Sueing entered Mater Dei, the school was ranked third in California and fifth in the nation, which would pit him against some of the most elite basketball players in the country. And against this top-tier talent, he averaged a team-high 18.2 points per game.

hen you hear the elder Sueing talk about the accomplishments of his son — which for most people would seem of epic proportions — it’s almost as if the younger Sueing has merely accomplished what was expected.

“I haven’t worried about Justice since he was probably 6 years old,” the elder Sueing says as he lets out a guttural laugh. “He takes care of himself, he thinks, he understands the difference between good and bad things.”

Sueing has possessed a sort of calm levelheadedness since childhood, and it’s something that has stayed with him for all of his life, allowing him to systematically and productively face and overcome challenges.

And Sueing has worked hard to instill in his three younger siblings those same values. His younger siblings look up to him as an emblem of how to act and achieve their dreams — and that works reciprocally, leading Sueing to work his hardest to be a good role model.

“Being an older brother, I really have to set an example,” Sueing says. “I really need to make sure that my younger siblings understand things, especially since I’m not down there anymore. And when I get back, I try to teach them little things.”

he move up to Berkeley, which separated him from his close-knit family, has been more than simply a continuation of his love for the game of basketball. He’s also fallen in love with the Bay Area, which offers a plentitude of new experiences, all of which Sueing seems more than eager to explore.

“I love it here,” Sueing says. ”I really enjoy the weather the most; it’s never really too hot or too cold. I get to San Francisco and I don’t even know what to start off with because there’s so much stuff to do. But I love to look around and explore.”

Sueing and his roommate, freshman teammate Grant Anticevich, have cultivated a penchant for culinary creativity, embarking upon expeditions throughout the Bay Area to find the best fare in an area known for its food.

The pair has recently discovered Rick and Ann’s, a brunch restaurant across from the Claremont Hotel renowned for the hourlong wait time experienced on weekend mornings.

“Whenever we go out of town, we usually find a spot that’s supposed to be really good,” Sueing says. “In Berkeley, one of our favorite places is Rick and Ann’s — Grant found that, and it’s turned into our spot.”

hile that driving test may have been his first taste of failure, it was by no means his last. Division I college basketball, with its high-caliber play, brings its own host of challenges and demands. In a season that’s been rocky for the Bears, it’s indubitable that Sueing has faced his fair share of bumps throughout the year.

What’s unique about the Bears’ youngest star, however, is his ability to traverse those threats and emerge both unscathed and even more highly developed.

“He still has the same drive to obtain his goals,” the elder Sueing says. “If he comes across a wall, then he just looks at it real quick and figures out how to get over it. He’s always learned how to make adjustments.”

And as the younger Sueing continues to grow and mature, moving through and exploring the massive world around him, there is one thing that, for better or worse, will always act as his guide. His name, and the tenets that it inherently embodies, will continue to lead the path for his conduct — both on and off the court.

So far, it’s gotten Sueing all the way from Hawaii to Berkeley, onto a team where he’s become the key component of production. And there’s no telling where it will take him in the future.

“If he wants to become something or obtain something, I think he’s gonna do it,” the elder Sueing says.

Sophie Goethals covers men’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected]

FEBRUARY 23, 2018