After the first 11 games of the season, forward Brandon Sherrod ’15 was having a career-best year for the men’s basketball team. But as a team, the Elis were not having the same level of success.
At the time, the Bulldogs were mired in a difficult stretch of their nonconference schedule. The team had lost three of its last four games, including a heartbreaking two-point loss at Providence, when head coach James Jones decided to take a page from legendary NBA coach Gregg Popovich’s book. Jones decided to move Sherrod from the starting lineup into a role off the bench.
“We wanted to shake some things up,” Jones said. “We wanted to give Brandon more of an opportunity playing without [forward] Justin [Sears ’16] where he can command more of the ball on offense.”
Sears commands the most touches when he is on the floor because of his ability to convert them at a high rate. By moving the offensive-minded Sherrod to the bench for defensive forward Matt Townsend ’15, Jones believed he could reinvigorate the team.
Whereas most players might see the change in role as a demotion, Sherrod has made the most of it. He has reshaped himself into a coordinator on defense and a playmaker on offense. Over the last five games, Sherrod is averaging a strong 2.3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio, up from his average as a starter.
“I really like getting assists,” Sherrod said. “Getting your teammates open and making them better is something that I cherish. It’s been somewhat of a conscious effort, but the opportunities have presented themselves and guys have been able to knock shots down.”
One of the biggest weaknesses of the Elis this season has been their perimeter defense. Opponents have shot a scintillating 42.9 percent from the arc so far this season while the Bulldogs have shot just 32.4 percent themselves.
Sherrod said he is hopeful he can make an impact on the defensive end of the court.
“More recently, with the struggles we’ve had defensively, I try to come in and be a communicator on the defensive end,” Sherrod said.
Perhaps this effort has already paid dividends: He has averaged 1.6 blocks in his last five games, up from his average as a starter. But despite his success in his new role, Sherrod is reluctant to say the better numbers are due to the fact that he now faces his oppenents’ second units.
He pointed out that the Ivy League is full of deep teams with considerable talent.
“I think every team that we play has a lot of talent coming off the bench,” Sherrod said. “I never really take anything for granted. Even if it is the second team, I don’t think it’s any easier.”
The jury is still out on whether this move will pay off in the long run, but there is reason to believe the team is headed in the right direction after this change. While the Elis were not competitive in their first game with Sherrod playing in his new capacity, the lost only narrowly to a tough Vermont team later that week. In the impressive home win against Brown two weeks ago, Sherrod contributed an efficient 10 points, a rebound, an assist and a block off the bench while taking seven trips to the line.
“Brandon’s one of the nicest kids on the planet,” Jones said. “That’s almost a detriment sometimes. He needs to be a little nastier in some ways on the court, but he’s going to do whatever the coaches think is the right thing to help us win games. He’s not going to question; he’s just going to do.”
For Sherrod, the success is a result of staying humble and committed to his sport.
Underneath the 6 foot, 6 inch, 240 pound exterior, Sherrod has shown himself to be a true team player.
“Playing any sport at a Division I school is a very humbling experience,” Sherrod said. “At the end of the day I really don’t care if I’m starting or not as long as my team is winning games. If I’m averaging five points a game and my team is winning, I don’t care.”
The Bulldogs tip off this Friday at 7 p.m. against Columbia in the John J. Lee Amphitheater.