Sherrod Shining In Final Season
Feb. 14, 2011
by Sam Hickman
Flash back to two years ago.
Jontae Sherrod was a sophomore on the East Carolina men's basketball team, struggling to find his role on a squad that finished with a 13-17 record. Even after making solid improvements his junior season, it was hard to imagine the success that Sherrod, now a senior, is enjoying this year in his final season as a Pirate.
Seemingly, the only person that could have predicted his recent success was Sherrod himself. A native of Tarboro, N.C., the right-hander leads ECU in scoring and is a key ingredient in one of the best years of Pirate basketball in over a decade.
"I always knew that I had it in me," Sherrod stated about his recent production. "I wish that I had another year, but this is it. This is my time to shine. I've enjoyed carrying some of the load offensively. I think every basketball player wants to do that."
`Tae,' as he is commonly referred to, attributes his output in his final season to maturity, from both a personal standpoint as well as a basketball player. He credits the head coach in his first three seasons, Mack McCarthy, as playing a big role in the maturation process.
"From day one, Coach Mack was always telling me that I needed to be a man," Sherrod said. "He always pushed me to be responsible for my actions and I finally started to grasp that."
The senior guard also shared high-praise for first-year head coach Jeff Lebo, who has guided the Pirates to a 13-11 start and a 5-5 Conference USA mark. Lebo was instrumental in making sure Sherrod gained a true appreciation of the opportunity that was in front of him entering his final campaign. Lebo joked that the first news he heard when taking the job were "horror stories about Jontae." Once Lebo had spent more time with Sherrod, he could not figure out where the nightmare tales came from.
"We haven't had one problem since I heard those stories," Lebo grinned. "Of course, everybody has some moments in practice or a game where they let their emotions get the best of them and Jontae has had those. That's when we try to reel him in and he's been doing a great job controlling his emotions. It's very special to see a senior mature the way he has."
Along with Sherrod's maturation process came a drastic improvement in his play on the court.
He indicated one of the biggest factors growing up as a player was "putting the work in to improve." He spent longer hours in the gym, got to practice early and left the gym late and sometimes came back to the gym hours after practice had concluded. The hard work and dedication paid off, as his coaches indicated it would.
Sherrod has led the Pirates in scoring in 13 of 24 contests, which has allowed his 15.3 points per game average to stand above the rest. The countless hours of practice have also paid dividends to his production from beyond the arc. He has made 54 three-point field goals this season, just four shy of matching his total from his freshman, sophomore, and junior years combined. Lebo beamed when sharing stories of Sherrod's improvement.
"Jontae has put in all of the extra work," Lebo described. "He comes in the gym and shoots thousands and thousands of jumpers. He has truly bought in to what we are trying to accomplish here as a team. When you see a senior that has put in as much hard work as Jontae and you start to see the results during games, it's very special. He has had an outstanding and special senior season. He's been a pleasure to coach."
Sherrod notes he is trying to live in the moment and enjoy the team's success while he can during his final stint as a Pirate roundballer.
Since beginning his career at ECU, his teams have never won more than 13 games in a single season. The Pirates have also never won more than five conference games during Sherrod's career. East Carolina is poised to eclipse those win totals with six games remaining on its schedule and the Conference USA Tournament, making it his most successful year since donning the Purple and Gold.
"The thing that means the most to me is our success as a team," remarked an enthusiastic Sherrod. "It means that I am a part of something special that's going on here. This team can go as far as we want to go if we keep working hard. God has really blessed me and I'm just glad to be a part of it."