Senior Tyler Sugiyama is not one to have a lot of idle time on his hands. In addition to being a full-time student, he previously spent one summer serving as a congressional page for then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Later, he interned as a financial analyst at JPMorgan Chase in Chicago.
Oh, and he also plays basketball for USC.
“I have had an opportunity to explore all my interests at USC,” Sugiyama said. “That’s why I came here.”
Sugiyama refuses to let basketball completely define his USC experience. As a true student-athlete, he found a way to balance his desire to gain work experience with his passion for the sport.
Sugiyama has had to make difficult sacrifices to accommodate such large commitments. Prior to his senior year of high school, he forfeited his final season of Amateur Athletic Union basketball to work under Pelosi. Sugiyama said he had scholarship offers from several mid-major programs, yet he saw the value in a USC education and decided to walk on and become a Trojan. Despite interning countless hours at JPMorgan this past summer, he found time to work out regularly and improve his game.
In fact, it is not uncommon to see Sugiyama rolling down Trousdale Parkway on his longboard in a business suit on his way to a class presentation, only to see him a couple of hours later riding back in basketball attire on his way to practice.
“You always have time management issues for the first two or three weeks of the semester as a student-athlete,” Sugiyama said. “After that you adjust, no matter how busy your schedule is. You have to.”
Sugiyama’s contribution to the USC basketball program cannot be found in box scores. The 5-foot-10 senior guard has not scored a point for the Trojans, nor played more than six total minutes in a season.
Yet Sugiyama, who has been a member of the USC basketball team longer than any scholarship player, commands respect. As Sugiyama sat on the couch recounting his USC career in the lounge area of the Galen Center locker room after a recent practice, teammate Eric Wise, just strolling past, joined the conversation to hear what his fellow senior had to say.
“We all trust his opinion,” senior guard Jio Fontan said. “He has become our bench captain.”
During practices, Sugi, as his teammates call him, frequently mentors younger players. The soft-spoken Winnetka, Ill., native provides calming instruction to his peers, which contrasted with former head coach Kevin O’Neill’s abrasive teaching style.
“He knows exactly what we want as a coaching staff,” assistant coach Tony Miller said. “Sometimes the players might think we want something one way, but Sugiyama can pull them aside and show them what we are really trying to get done.”
Sugiyama provides more than just knowledge of the game. In practice, he is regularly tasked with simulating an opponent starting point guard on offense and shadowing USC’s guards on defense.
“He pushes me to get better,” Fontan said. “He does not back down. He is really aggressive on the defensive end, so you have to stay on your toes.”
After graduation, Sugiyama is going professional, but not in basketball. He has a job lined up with financial services firm JPMorgan’s Treasury Services department in New York.
If Sugiyama decides to cross back over into a career in basketball, however, his wide range of experiences with the Trojans should serve him well.
“He is definitely a Wall Street guy but if he wants to pursue coaching, he has a coach’s mindset,” senior forward Renaldo Woolridge noted.
Whatever path he chooses, Sugiyama’s impact on USC’s basketball team cannot be denied. In a season filled with turmoil, he has been a calming force among the seemingly constant change that has afflicted the program. For his part, though, Sugiyama has been able to keep the big picture in perspective.
“Down the road it will not just be about practices and sprints every day,” Sugiyama said. “The hard work is going to be staying late and doing what you need to do to stand out among a group of people.”