Julianne Sutton was determined to make a good first impression on her University of North Georgia women’s basketball teammates.
When the players scheduled their first summer pickup game, Sutton left her Braselton home two hours early to ensure she’d be in Dahlonega on time. But the Flowery Branch High grad ran into traffic on the way to campus and arrived at the gym 30 minutes late.
“I was so stressed,” Sutton recalled with a laugh. “I was thinking, ‘This is just a great way to make a first impression, being late to our first pickup game.’”
Her initial audition with teammates may not have gone over too well, but that didn’t stop Sutton from quickly becoming an integral part of the Nighthawks squad.
The former Lady Falcons forward is North Georgia’s fourth-leading scorer despite logging just more than 14 minutes per game early in her freshman season. Sutton has averaged nine points a night while dishing out 13 assists, tied for second-most among Nighthawks (4-1) players.
And she’s doing it all on the fly, transitioning from high school to the Division II level in just a matter of months.
“The game is much faster, going from high school to college,” Sutton said. “You have to deal with the shot clock, and that makes the offense flow a lot quicker than I’m used to. Also, I’m playing with girls taller and stronger than me, which is different. I was used to being the tallest person out there in high school.”
She took advantage of that at Flowery Branch, where she scored 1,000 career points, regularly produced double-doubles and landed on the GACA All-State team as a senior. More importantly, Sutton was a key piece of the Lady Falcons’ first-ever trip to the state semifinals last season.
Yet for all her prep success, she didn’t anticipate playing for North Georgia right away due to seniors Mackenzie Darrah and Deana Blankinship having already established themselves at forward.
“I was expecting this year to be about learning from them and taking their feedback,” Sutton said. “I’ve been working hard, trying to get in the gym with them and learn from them.”
She had to put that knowledge on display almost immediately.
Sutton played nine minutes in the Nighthawks’ season-opening win against North Greenville University on Nov. 10. The 6-foot forward recorded nine points but committed four fouls and had a pair of turnovers.
“It was nerve-wracking. I remember being nervous,” Sutton said of her first college game. “But the coaches told me the best thing is to go out and play, just get rid of your nerves. But I messed up a few times here and there, not being in the right spot on plays or fumbling the ball a little bit.”
The Flowery Branch grad quickly cleaned up that aspect of her game, turning it over just once over the last four contests while playing double-digit minutes in each outing.
She even scored a game-high 16 points on 7 of 8 shooting from the field with nine rebounds in North Georgia’s 97-34 win against Fort Valley State on Nov. 14. Naturally, her role has rapidly expanded as a newcomer to a team that went 20-9 a year ago.
“It’s fun when coach calls your name off the bench and you get to play with seniors and juniors,” Sutton said.
Those same upperclassmen, Sutton said, have been influential in her swift adjustment to the college ranks. They calmed her down when she experienced first-game jitters and embraced her to the point where she refers to them as family.
Sutton said they’ve shown her nothing but love since the first time she met them, even though she was late to the introductory pickup game.
“They didn’t give me too hard of a time, actually,” Sutton said. “They did a bit at first, but not anymore. I thought they would get on me about that. I would have.”