Basketball is a big man’s game, yet 5-foot-9 Augusta University senior point guard Keshun Sherrill is perhaps two more guaranteed starts away from being the all-time leading scorer in Peach Belt Conference history.
“I knew he was good, but I had no idea he was going to be able to score 2,000-plus points,” Jaguars coach Dip Metress said of the hidden gem he recruited from Salisbury, N.C., five years ago.
Sherrill will lead the regular-season champion Jaguars into the semifinals of the Peach Belt tournament against Columbus State on Saturday in Greenwood, S.C. His 2,265 career points are only 41 shy of former Augusta State great Ben Madgen’s conference record 2,306 during the Jaguars’ most successful reign from 2006-10.
With at least Saturday’s game and an anticipated berth in the NCAA Division II Tournament, all Sherrill would need to do is hit his season average of 22.6 points per game to eclipse Madgen. Sherrill, however, would prefer to collect a couple more titles instead.
“I wanted to come in and be a part of a winning program and add a couple championships,” Sherrill said. “As far as the scoring record, honestly it never crossed my mind. … Just by reaching 2,000 at the collegiate level with one of the best programs in Division II, it means a lot to me. Hard work pays off. It feels good to know if our season gets extended I could pass one of the greatest, Ben Madgen, to ever play here.”
Sherrill has added his name to what Metress calls his “Mount Rushmore” of Jaguars players he’s coached in 13 seasons in Augusta. The three other greats he’d share the honor with – 6-4 shooting guard Madgen, 7-foot center Garret Siler and 6-5 pogo stick Tyrekus “AJ” Bowman – all overlapped during the Jaguars’ run of three consecutive NCAA Elite Eight appearances.
Sherrill, leading a playing roster largely filled with freshmen and sophomores the last two seasons, never had the luxury of size or all-conference teammates to take the pressure off and elevate each other’s games.
“My standard line about him is he’s a better kid than he is a player, and he’s one of the best players to ever wear a uniform here – a great player who’s had an unbelievable impact on our program,” Metress said.
That Sherrill ended up in Augusta and not somewhere on Tobacco Road is about modern-day basketball profiling that has changed since diminutive guards like Muggsy Bogues and Spud Webb dazzled in the Atlantic Coast Conference. His high school coach at West Rowan couldn’t sell the first cousin of former N.C. State point guard Scooter Sherrill to any of the Division I programs in North Carolina.
“When they got his physical credentials they weren’t impressed,” said Mike Gurley, his high school coach. “I’d say, ‘You don’t understand what I’m telling you. This guy can play.’ I remind them every time I see those guys what he’s done in Augusta, but they just wouldn’t take a chance on him.”
Their loss was Metress’ gain. He and Gurley were college roommates at Belmont Abbey and the best man in each other’s weddings. So Metress was happy to stop in to see his old friend’s small star on the way back from scouting other guards in a Christmas tournament in Greensboro. N.C.
“I remember telling my assistant (Jamie Quarles) that we’re going to get this guy and he’s going to be better than all the other guys who were going to go Division I,” Metress said. “Only two of us were recruiting him and the other coach said, ‘You realize if he was 6-foot he’d be in the ACC.’ … In my life I’ve never worried about the size of guards. If they can play they can play.”
Sherrill never fretted about the limited opportunities because of his stature.
“I wouldn’t say it bothered me at all – it kind of motivated me,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how tall you are or how skinny or how fat you are – none of that matters until you look at the heart. If you have a big heart and go out and give it 110 percent every time you play, the height stuff goes out the window.”
It came down to Augusta and Lenoir-Rhyne in nearby Hickory, N.C., but Sherrill was sold on Augusta during his official visit and committed to join his brother, KJ Sherrill, who transferred in for his senior season from UNC-Charlotte.
“Being such a family guy, I thought he’d stay close to home, but he went on visit to Augusta and fell in love with the place and came back and said that’s where he wanted to go,” Gurley said.
Sherrill has never considered transferring to a bigger program.
“A couple people asked if I was going to transfer after KJ graduated, I chuckled and said I’m staying for the long haul,” Sherrill said. “Why would a person leave when the coach is going to put the ball in your hand and ask you to be a leader?”
Leadership has always driven Sherrill, who Metress and Gurley both say is the most dedicated worker they’ve ever coached. To account for his size disadvantage, he honed the pull-up jumper to make him a scoring threat from anywhere on the court as well as a quick catch-and-release jumper off screens.
“Growing up my dad always told me you have to develop a pull-up game and that will take you a long way,” Sherrill said. “You’ll go in lane against 6-7, 6-8 guys who can block your shot, but if you can pull up you can be successful. Straight up, straight down, hold your follow through.”
A year ago, Sherrill carried his freshmen-laden team to the Peach Belt championship game where they came a follow-up shot short by Lander with two seconds left in double overtime from winning Augusta’s first title since 2011 and qualifying for the NCAA.
Sherrill, one of the best free-throw shooters in conference history, missed three of six foul shots in the final 2:32 of the second overtime including one of two with 11 seconds left. That disappointment compelled him to improve to be a 91 percent free-throw shooter this season.
“My oldest brother always told me that every free throw counts and every time I look at the line I remember that,” he said. “That’s what’s motivated me throughout the season this year. It was kind of a tough pill to swallow, being a box-out away and a couple free throws away from being the conference tournament champion. But you can’t dwell on that and just have to learn from it. That’s what we did from last year to this year.”
Sherrill delivered a message in the preseason when Augusta traveled to Division I power Wichita State for an exhibition game and rallied from a 22-point deficit with 16 minutes left to get within one during a torrid 12-minute stretch. Sherrill scored 28 of his 33 points in the second half and counts it among the highlights of his career along with his breakaway dunk on national TV as a sophomore.
“If we can hang around Wichita State and play defense and stop them, nobody in our conference should ever make us get down on ourselves dealing with adversity,” Sherrill said. “That was fuel added to the fire.”
That fuel culminated in a 21-6 season in which he’s scored 29 or more points eight times including the last three consecutive games. He scored 33 in clinching a share of the Peach Belt regular season title with an overtime victory at rival USC Aiken last week – an accomplishment that moved Sherrill to tears on the court.
“It finally feels good to bring it back to Augusta,” he said. “It feels good for all the hard work and dedication I’ve put into this program for it to finally pay off. People don’t know all the things we went through, so to capture that regular season title after all that hard work, I didn’t have any choice but to let a few tears fall.”
If things go well, more tears may fall along with the school and conference scoring record. The Sherrill era will end at some point in the next few weeks, preferably by hanging more championship banners and perhaps eventually his No. 10 jersey along with Madgen’s No. 1 in the rafters of Christenberry Fieldhouse.
“Honestly I’ve enjoyed the last five years I’ve been here in Augusta,” Sherrill said. “All good things come to an end, but I’ll never forget the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had here. At the end of this season I can say that I won’t have any regrets about it.”