After four years of Ivy League basketball, the last of which included first-team All-Ivy honors and an NCAA record for consecutive field goals made, Brandon Sherrod ’16 decided he wasn’t done.
In October, Sherrod signed a contract with the Roseto Sharks, a professional basketball team in Italy’s Serie A2 division. Sherrod is one of several former Yale players pursuing professional basketball abroad, joining former teammates Greg Mangano ’12, Javier Duren ’15, Nick Victor ’16 and two-time Ivy League Player of the Year Justin Sears ’16.
In his first few months with the Sharks, Sherrod has made a huge impact. After 14 games, the forward leads the team in average rebounds and blocks per game, with 6.8 and 0.6, respectively, and is tied for the second-highest points per game average with 11.9. Currently in seventh place out of 16 teams, the Sharks sit in the middle of the Serie A2 East conference standings.
“I believe Brandon was the best thing to happen to our team this season,” current Sharks star and former Georgia Tech guard Adam Smith said. “His presence simply changes the dynamic of our team.”
At 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, Sherrod is undersized. He plays power forward and center, positions usually reserved for athletes closer to 7 feet tall. Even at a height disadvantage, Sherrod is a powerful rebounder, efficient scorer and fluid passer. Sherrod said he compensates for his so-called height disadvantage by drawing inspiration from other pros once thought too small for their positions, including Warriors star Draymond Green, Raptors mid-range specialist DeMar DeRozan and Hawks’ forward Paul Millsap.
Since arriving in Italy, Sherrod has even started to watch some tape of European stars. Three-time EuroLeague champion Kyle Hines, who once played in the same Italian league as Sherrod, is a big inspiration. Hines, a New Jersey native, currently plays in Moscow. His highlight reel shows a smart and efficient player who finds ways to get shots and rebounds over taller competition.
Though Sherrod’s success to the faster and more free-flowing style of play found in Europe, Sherrod’s work ethic is crucial. Over the past summer, he went to the gym in the early morning to lift and work on skills with Bulldogs’ assistant coach Anthony Goins, and later in the day, he played pickup.
Even with all the preparation, adjusting to Italian basketball was tough. Sherrod said it was “a different game,” and acknowledged the difficulty of the learning curve.
In Sherrod’s first game in Roseto, the other team went straight after him in an effort to put the new American guy on the spot. He was bumped with both hands — something that would get a foul call in American basketball — and harassed in the post.
Part of the difference stems from subtle changes in the rules allowing for more contact, but there’s also an unspoken bias.
According to Sherrod, on close calls, Americans tend not to get the benefit of the doubt. Wanting to preserve the league’s identity, the league allows only two American players per team. And on Sherrod’s team, the only other American on the team, Smith, is the team’s primary offensive weapon. On Jan. 22, he dropped 40 points in a 40-minute game. According to Sherrod, the limited spots reserved for players from the United States are tough to get.
“If you win it looks really good,” Sherrod said. “If you lose and you’re not playing well, it’s like, why do we have this American here?”
But it is not as if these Americans have it bad. The city of Roseto is filled with avid basketball fans who show the players, particularly the Americans, a lot of love. The team provides food, housing and transportation, so Sherrod has no living expenses. He also has not given up singing. A former Whiffenpoof, Sherrod has gotten chances to solo at church services and benefit concerts.
It also doesn’t hurt that he wakes up to the sun rising over the Adriatic Sea, Sherrod said.
Though Yale has found new stars in returning players like guard Anthony Dallier ’17 and freshmen such as forward Jordan Bruner ’20 and guard Miye Oni ’20, the team still feels his absence.
“We miss Brandon on the court and in the locker room,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “There are energy givers and energy takers. Brandon is certainly an energy giver.”
Roseto’s regular season extends through April and playoffs begin in May.