SEATTLE — If a professional basketball career doesn’t pan out, Scott Suggs could be a fabulous professional poker player some day.
You look at his face — in good or bad times — and it’s a blank slate. He gives hardly a hint of what’s inside his head or heart.
Maybe he’ll grin, but never a frown. Mostly he reveals nothing.
It’s that ability to suppress his emotions during a roller-coaster career with the Washington men’s basketball team that has allowed him to hide the internal conflict he has been battling most of this season.
He has put so much pressure on himself, which has led to feelings of doubt and disappointment.
“If you’re around him every day like we are, you could just see that Scott has just wanted so much to help his teammates and do the things he felt and we all believe that he can do,” coach Lorenzo Romar said. “So I think that — I don’t want to say pressure — but he’s been dealing with thoughts of, ‘Man, I’m not doing enough to help my team.’ “
Thanks in part to a recent turnaround from Suggs, Washington (16-13, 8-8 Pac-12) has positioned itself for a late-season run entering Wednesday’s 8:30 p.m. game with USC (14-15, 9-7) at Alaska Airlines Arena.
“I can’t tell you why my shot is going down now, but it is,” Suggs said. “I’m just happy things are starting to turn around.”
Suggs, who won the Mr. Basketball award in Missouri as a high-school senior, has been billed as a scorer since he arrived at Washington in 2008, rated the No. 11 prep prospect at shooting guard in the nation by Scout.com.
However, the 6-foot-6, 195-pound wing struggled to make a significant impact his first two seasons, not averaging more than 4.7 points. He thought about transferring as a freshman.
“I came in wanting to play and expecting to play,” Suggs said. “It didn’t go like that. By the end of the year, I can’t say I was cool with it, but winning that championship, it kind of made it a little easier. That was the most fun I had at Washington.”
As a junior, Suggs found a role as a three-point specialist on a team that finished 24-11, won the Pac-10 tournament and advanced to the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament. He averaged 7.4 points, ranked third in conference shooting behind the arc and started 10 of 31 games.
Suggs was ready for a big senior send-off, but he broke his right foot before the season and had surgery in October 2011. He was set to return in that December when he decided to redshirt and sit out last season.
“It was tough at the time, but I’m glad I did,” he said. “Even when I came back to practice, I had to sit out another month, so it ended up being the right decision.”
Suggs had big shoes to fill this season. He helped replace Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten Jr., both of whom left early for the NBA and were drafted in the first round.
Injuries spoiled the start of his season. He suffered a concussion 90 seconds into the game against Albany and sat out the rest of the contest. He also sprained his right foot, which forced him to miss three nonconference games.
Suggs then went on a tear, scoring 19, 24 and 17 points in consecutive contests. It was his best three-game stretch as a Husky. But it didn’t last.
Over the next 12 games, he averaged 10.9 points while shooting 34.5 percent from the field.
“I let it frustrate me,” Suggs said. “I’m missing shots and I can’t figure out the problem. I’d let that distract me from maybe competing as hard as I should. I was focusing too much on missing shots and I’m feeling like I’m letting us down because I’m supposed to make those shots.”
His Feb. 7 outing at UCLA began a five-game slide reminiscent of his first two years at Washington.
Aside from a 16-point performance against USC, he shot 6 of 29 from the field and was 0 for 10 on three-pointers, scoring just four points in each of the four games.
During the stretch, the Huskies were 1-4 and fading fast.
Then came a talk with Romar two weeks ago after a disheartening 70-52 defeat at Arizona.
They’ve known each other for more than a decade, ever since Romar, who was then coaching at Saint Louis, beat a 10-year-old in an impromptu game after a Fourth of July cookout. That kid was Suggs.
Romar knew what needed to be said to his slumping senior guard. They talked at length about passion and intensity.
“I was fortunate enough to play professionally, and if I didn’t play with passion, I wasn’t very good,” Romar said. “The passion is something that is very important. The best players have to play with it.”
Suggs countered: “Sometimes it might look like I’m not trying. I am trying.”
Romar told him to “get lost in the game” and focus on aspects other than scoring.
The next game he scored 16 points on 4-for-10 shooting while making 4 of 6 behind the arc, including a three-pointer in the final seconds that sealed a 68-59 victory at Arizona State.
Sunday, Suggs converted 7 of 10 shots, including 5 of 8 three-pointers, for 23 points in a 72-68 win over Washington State. And once again he hit a big shot — a tiebreaking three-pointer — late in game that led the Huskies to victory.
“You can play with passion and be as reserved as anybody,” Suggs said. “I think being passionate is competing. You’re competing every play. You’re passionate about the game.
“I think everybody on this team is passionate about the game. They just show it in different ways.”