Five years ago, Ravens Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs decided to invest his time and financial resources into launching an AAU basketball team.
A former AAU basketball player in his high school days who was recruited by Syracuse for basketball before accepting a football scholarship to Arizona State, Suggs is a huge basketball fan who wanted to get involved to showcase the talent of Baltimore-area basketball players.
Now under Suggs' guidance and sponsorship, Team Sizzle AAU has emerged as a Maryland state champion, winner of the DMV Elite Invitational championship and other tournaments. The team has traveled across the country for tournaments, including Texas and Florida, with many players being recruited by Division I schools.
"It has been an honor to watch these young men grow up for the past five years," Suggs said during a team banquet this weekend in Pikesville, where he was presented with a framed jersey signed by the players. "When y'all started, y'all could touch the net. Now you guys are dunking with ease and I love it. Getting to see the world, building that bond, that love that you guys have built, no one would ever be able to take that from you. This experience is something that y'all can cherish for a lifetime. I just want to say I'm proud of you guys. I love you guys, Sizz Fam forever."
Suggs has completely funded the AAU program, providing all travel expenses, including flights and hotels, as well as shoes and uniforms.
New Town standout senior point guard Daniel Shand, 17, was one of the original players to join Suggs' AAU program, meeting the 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year when he was in middle school.
"I was 12 years old and Terrell asked me if I had went to any camps and he told me he wanted me to get noticed," said Shand, who's still deciding on which college he'll attend. "He goes to our games, our tournaments and our practices. Before we play, he asks for everybody's report cards to make sure we're doing well in school. If not for him, I wouldn't have a lot of colleges looking at me. I appreciate everything he did for me."
Suggs recently attended the Gilman-Good Counsel football game. Team Sizzle basketball player and Notre Dame football commitment Sam Mustipher plays for Good Counsel.
"When I talk to him and ask him questions about football, he's always been an inspiring guy," Mustipher said. "When I see his work ethic on the field when he set the Ravens' sack record against the Steelers, that was pretty exciting. Anytime I got a scholarship offer, he congratulated me. When I got an offer from Alabama, he congratulated me on Twitter. My friends saw that, and that was really exciting. He really cares about us."
Among the other players on the team besides Shand and Mustipher: Sean Mayberry and Christopher Wallace (Calvert Hall); Devin Smith, Jerell Cooke, Tim Hanks, Connor Gaskins and Christopher Manning (Randallstown); Melvin Keihn (Gilman); Koron Ford (Owings Mills); Kenny Sherrod, Tim Hanks and Justin Brown (New Town).
Suggs devotes a lot of his downtime to the AAU program, attending the players' summer games and going to high school basketball and football games.
"He's been a very integral part of the team," assistant coach Eric Ford said. "He tries to support them however possible. We've had situations before where if we win a tournament we get new uniforms or new shoes. He knows the process. He keeps in touch, he talks to coaches, he stays involved."
Head coach Troy Burroughs said four of the current players have Division I scholarship offers.
"I was coaching an area rec team back in 2009 and Terrell was sponsoring us, buying jersey and shoes," Burroughs said. "He took to the kids and it took off from there. He said he always wanted to start an AAU program. We've had events at his house at least once or twice per year to play video games, eat, have bonding moments. He shows his support in many ways."
When Suggs broke retired Ravens outside linebacker Peter Boulware's all-time franchise sack record in 2011 with three sacks against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team was there at M&T Bank Stadium after Suggs provided tickets and took the players and coaches to the game in a limousine.
"We always say our motto is, 'It's not a team, it's a movement,'" Burroughs said. "We have a lot of pride. It's been a lot of hard work and a lot of fun."
Tarik Dickens started out as the team's head coach, but is now the manager of the basketball program because of his involvement in Suggs' movie company, Team Sizzle Worldwide, and his role as Suggs' personal assistant.
"Basketball is Terrell's favorite sport and his favorite player is LeBron James," Dickens said. "He had been wanting to do this ever since he went to one of Daniel's rec games and told him, 'I think you're really good.' He has put a lot into the kids.
"And he doesn't want anything back. He just wanted them to see the world. The main goal is to get them into schools. That's what's been happening, and it's been a very positive experience."