August 6, 2001

Transfer to Face Bittersweet Role

Aug. 3, 2001

Whitney Sutak knows it's going to be a long winter, when she sits at the end of the bench in street clothes, watching, waiting and learning. She also knows it's going to be even tougher than she can imagine now.

Sutak is scheduled to redshirt the college basketball season this fall, saving all her finest athletic moments for practice, as she waits out her transfer from the University of Utah to Santa Clara.

In the meantime, the 6-foot guard is keeping her basketball skills sharp in the San Francisco Summer Pro-Am League, where her second-place Golden State squad opens the league playoffs at 2 p.m. tomorrow at Kezar Pavilion against South Bay, which is led by Stanford star Lindsey Yamasaki.

"I'm working on a lot of things," Sutak said. "I think I have too many goals, because I can never just name one."

One of Sutak's goals this year has been to get herself back home, close to her family in Mill Valley. She is hoping that her transfer from Utah, a program that has been to the NCAA Tournament six of the past seven years, will accomplish that.

Sutak headed to Utah after starring at The Branson School in Ross, where she was three-time All-Bay County League selection and the league's most valuable player in 1998.

As a freshman at Utah, she did not see much playing time. As a sophomore, playing on a team that reached the Sweet 16, Sutak came off the bench and spent most of her time playing out of position at point guard, averaging 4.0 points a game. But Sutak wasn't happy in Salt Lake City.

"Living in Utah was a culture shock, a shock in general," Sutak said. "There wasn't that much for me there. I love basketball, but I need balance and I wasn't finding any balance in or out of school."

As a result, Sutak confesses that her attitude began to sour.

"I started to get negative and it made things worse," Sutak said. "And when you get down about things, you start to notice things going wrong. I felt like I needed to take a chance and try something else."

At the end of the season in March, Sutak requested a transfer back to the Bay Area and spent more than a month without a school, a state of limbo that made her "a total case."

A friend suggested she check into Santa Clara.

"She had interest from Cal and UCLA, and I was contacted by one of her former AAU coaches," Santa Clara coach Chris Denker said. "I said I would be interested if I saw a release. I got the release like the next day and she called me and it was a done thing in a matter of days."

Denker is glad to have a guard with such versatility and NCAA Tournament experience.

"Considering that she played out of position all of last year, the kid must have skills," Denker said. "She will not play the point for us, but she will be creative in the open court and she's shown that she can get her own shot. I think the year off is going to help. She will spend time in the weight room and get stronger and she will learn to fit into our system."

Sutak plans to devote her off-year to school work to keep her mind off the fact that she won't be wearing a uniform.

"I keep telling myself that practice is going to be my game time," Sutak said. "I figure if I keep reminding myself, it won't be such a shock when it happens."

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Playoff action - -- EVENT: Women's S.F. Summer Pro-Am Basketball League playoffs.

-- TOMORROW: Golden State (4-2) vs. South Bay (3-3), 2 p.m., Oakland (3-3) vs. Contra Costa (3-3), 4 p.m.

-- SUNDAY: Winners of Saturday's games play at 2 p.m.

-- AUG. 11: Winner of Sunday's game vs. regular-season champion San Francisco (5-1), 2 p.m.

-- WHERE: Kezar Pavilion, Stanyan and Waller streets, San Francisco.

-- ADMISSION: Free

E-mail Michelle Smith at msmith@sfchronicle.com.