When Mark Sherrill Jr. walks onto the basketball court, the Hopewell senior point guard doesn’t exactly intimidate his opponents as he stands only 5-foot-6, weighing 150 pounds with glasses or goggles that he admits with a laugh “make him look a little bit nerdy.”
But just a few minutes into a game, Sherrill’s opponents often find out the hard way that the 5-foot-6 blur can have a dizzying impact on the game with his intensity on both ends of the floor.
While Sherrill, 18, is in his third year as Hopewell’s starting point guard, he is having a career year, averaging a team-best 15 points, six assists, five steals and three rebounds per game.
First-year Hopewell basketball coach, Michael McNeil, says his stats alone don’t measure Sherrill’s value to his team.
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“Mark (Sherrill) has the intangibles that you can’t teach, said McNeill, who has also coached against Sherrill as a Vance assistant for the last six seasons. “He plays with a heart, grit and determination that not many players have. ...
“He thinks he is the biggest player on the court that is his mind-set. His size just motivates to play even harder. Mark always looks like he is playing with something to prove. That mentality is contagious.”
Sherrill admits that he plays “with a chip on his shoulder.”
“When I step on the court, I see guys look at me like ‘Who’s this little, short guy with the goggles?’” Sherrill said with a laugh. “But for me, that just adds more fun to the game. I know who I am and what I am capable of as a player. My size has just humbled me and made me appreciate the value of working harder than the next guy. I’d love to be bigger and taller, but I’m not, so I just have to make the best of it.”
Sherrill has had a basketball in his hands ever since he can remember as the son of former Johnson C. Smith All-American and Hall of Famer of the same name, Mark Sherrill Sr.
The elder Sherrill, who has been a Johnson C. Smith assistant basketball coach for the past 23 years, is also the school’s second all-time leading scorer as he poured 2,552 career points from 1988-1992.
Sherrill Jr. has looked up to his father, both literally and figuratively, his whole life as Mark Sr. stands a foot taller now at 6-foot-6.
Sherrill has a younger brother, Stephen Sherrill, a 6-foot-2 Hopewell sophomore, now his Hopewell teammate.
“My dad has influenced me a lot growing up and developing as a player, it’s great to be a coaches’ son because I’ve been in a gym, around college basketball my whole life,” Sherrill said. “But he (dad) has also let me find my own way and be my own player.”
While Sherrill proved to be solid player in first two years as a starter, averaging nearly nine points and three assists each season, he’s saved his best for his final season in a Hopewell uniform.
Sherrill is not only averaging career highs in points (14), assists (six) and steals (four) per game, but has also “become the clear leader of this Hopewell team,” according to coach McNeil.
“Mark was in a really tough situation before this season even started as the only (Hopewell) player who returned with varsity experience on a team,” McNeil said. “He could have transferred or just not wanted to be a team guy. Instead, Mark accepted the challenge of being the leader, and trying to help our young guys learn what it takes to win each night. Mark wants to win more than anything else.”
Sherrill says he never thought about going anywhere else.
“When I got to Hopewell, I knew all that was coming with it,” Sherrill said. “I knew they had a good tradition, but I knew they had several losing seasons before I got there. I’m not the type of person to leave or give up when the going gets tough. I wanted to help make a difference for this team, and help this team win.”
Hopewell (10-5 overall) is on pace to have its best season since 2009-10 campaign, when it went 23-3 under former Titans’ coach Eric Davis. Hopewell hasn’t had a winning season since then.
Sherrill and company have played well against a brutal schedule so far with impressive wins over Ardrey Kell, Lake Norman, Lake Norman Charter, Mooresville and North Mecklenburg on their 2016-17 resume.
Sherrill has led the way with several big performances, including a 21-point, six assist, five-steal performance in a 73-54 win at Mooresville on Nov. 30. Two days later, he came back with a 23-point, five-assist, three-steal effort to lead Hopewell past Lake Norman Charter, 71-68.
But Sherrill’s best game to date was the Dec. 13 battle with archrival, and then unbeaten, No. 1 in Observer Sweet 16, North Mecklenburg.
Sherrill had 10 points in the 42-39 upset victory, but none were bigger than his two free throws with 17 seconds left to give Hopewell a more comfortable lead.
“Making those two free throws at home (Hopewell) to help beat North Meck felt really good,” said Sherrill, who hadn’t beaten North Meck in his high school career previously. “I’ve been waiting to get that win for the last four years.”
While Sherrill is excited about his team’s start, he is hardly satisfied. He admits his focus is on playing his game, while helping his younger teammates like junior Zack Dixon, and sophomores Alvin Cannady, Nalik Veasley-Johnson and Brice Williams learn what it takes to win.
Hopewell senior Jaylon Acker and juniors Tyquis Forney and Micale Harris also play key roles.
Sherrill wants to help Hopewell make the playoffs for the first time in his Titan career.
“Winning feels really good, but I try not to think about what we’ve done so far,” said Sherrill, whose teams went 7-18, 9-15 and 9-15 the last three seasons, respectively. “We want to keep improving, keep winning and go as far as we can in the playoffs. Just saying playoffs sound good, because I haven’t been there yet.”
Sherrill will continue to work tirelessly to accomplish his goals on the court as he usually wakes up at 5 a.m. to go to the gym before school with his teammate and friend, Jordan Davis.
Coach McNeil says Sherrill is a gym rat that would spent 24 hours a day in the gym if he let him.
“Sometimes I have tone Mark down a little bit,” McNeil said, with a chuckle. “He will try to do a shoot-around before we actually have our shoot-around. I have to remind to take him to take a break from basketball every once in a while. You can tell he is a coach’s son.”
Sherrill, who hopes to play college basketball, says he can’t get enough of the game.
“I honestly can’t get enough basketball, it’s just what I love to do,” said Sherrill, who also boasts a 3.3 grade-point average. “A lot of days, I wake up to play basketball with Jordan (Davis) then go to the gym before school, then go to the gym after school, then go to (basketball) practice and then go back to gym after practice. ...
“I want to keep playing basketball in college and for as long as I can. I really can’t imagine my life without basketball. I know I can’t play forever, but right now I still feel like I have so much to prove on the court.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.