LAND O'LAKES — Coach Erashaul "Ray" Sutton sits calmly on the sidelines for the entire game. He never shows frustration. He never yells.
The 23-year-old father who works at McDonald's never made it past a college tryout on the hardwood, but he can't stand the idea of being away from basketball. He started his coaching career as a teenager, long before he quit playing himself. He played briefly for Sickles High in Tampa, then lost his eligibility as his grades slipped.
Now Sutton coaches two co-ed teams at the Land O'Lakes Recreation Complex — one for 7- to 8-year-olds, another for 10- to 12-year-olds — where he tries to help kids improve on and off the court.
"I like to talk to these young kids and mentor them from a young age to make sure they do the right things and understand how important school is to basketball," said Sutton, who lives in Land O'Lakes. "I grew up quick and started analyzing older kids when I was 11. Then in eighth grade I started helping out coaching a youth football team and I realized how much I wanted to coach. I never made it as a player, but this lets me stay close to the game and give back to the community."
Sutton also coaches AAU kids with the C&G Bulls in Land O'Lakes, and he coaches with the local noncompetitive league i9 sports. He has helped out with coaching at Gaither High School and Pine View Middle School, and hopes to move on to coach a high school team someday. For now, he shares his passion for basketball on a volunteer basis. He just wants to be close to the game.
"I work with them on basics and just want every kid to enjoy the game," Sutton said. "I tell all my players to love the game, don't worry about being LeBron James or Kobe Bryant when you're a kid. What matters is that you have fun, because if you're not having fun, winning doesn't really matter. There is no point if you don't enjoy it."
Land O'Lakes recreation leader A.J. Fernandez, who has worked with Sutton over the last three seasons, said the coach has a good rapport with kids and parents alike. In fact, he said, many parents ask to have their players placed on Sutton's team.
"He has a passion for the game and he's good at teaching them," Fernandez said. "The kids really take to him and I think they see him as a role model. He wants to go on and coach older kids, but this is a great place for him to start and get a coaching education and learn how to communicate, which he is already very good at."
Amy Naylor of Land O'Lakes has a 10-year-old son who played for Sutton last season. She was disappointed the league couldn't accommodate her request to place her son on Sutton's team this season, but she said the coach isn't a stranger to the family.
"He's amazing and so personable," Naylor said. "He talks to them on their level and they're very active in practice.
"We're not on his team this season, but he still walks up and shakes hands with my whole family and gives my son a high five and asks him how he's doing.
"He's a great family guy and a pleasure to have in the league."
Sutton has found a way to establish trust with the players and the parents.
"It's not as hard as people make it seem," Sutton said. "People look at me funny because I'm so young and my daughter is only 7 months old so she isn't on the team, but I've learned that once you show their kids respect and prove to them that you have their kids' best interest at heart, the parents trust you.
"I make myself available to them any time and you can create that relationship where one of our kids scores and they immediately look over to me and they're beating their chest. That's the best part of it all."