Notre Dame men's basketball: Sherman confident, comfortable

TOM NOIE
South Bend Tribune

Each time he walks into Purcell Pavilion, fifth-year senior power forward Garrick Sherman carries something that often was absent from his game last season.

Confidence.

Sherman now knows he's a main guy in the Notre Dame men's basketball program. For the Irish to enjoy success in their first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference and into postseason, Sherman must deliver every practice, every game.

That's a big shift from last season when the 6-foot-10, 246-pound native of Kenton, Ohio often drifted through his first year of eligibility with the Irish trying to find how he fit.

“I'd be lying if I said it wasn't different,” Sherman said. “It's a way different feel this year having a whole year playing with everybody and coming back with the same guys. There's a great opportunity for me to step in and help this team.

“I definitely want to be a part of it and hopefully, a big part of it.”

When opportunity for the Michigan State transfer knocked last season, Sherman wasn't sure how to answer. Still, he sailed through non-league play as the second big to first team All-Big East senior Jack Cooley.

Sherman ran the floor and finished. He grabbed a few of the rebounds Cooley couldn’t get. He was a factor.

It all went south at the start of his first and only season in the Big East. Any confidence that Sherman secured while scoring double digits in four non-league games, including a career-high 22 against Monmouth, evaporated in mid-January.

The more he pressed, the worse he played. It bottomed out on the league's biggest stage.

Looking to bounce back from a zero-point, one-rebound effort in a home game three days earlier to Connecticut, Sherman had four point-blank looks at the rim in the first half against St. John's at Madison Square Garden.

Instead of dunks, Sherman opted for soft layins. None of the four fell before the Irish did. Coming home from New York, Irish coach Mike Brey decided Sherman needed to take a step back and decompress. He was sent to work with the blue team (reserves) in practice with no guarantee that he would play for the foreseeable future.

“He had lost his confidence,” Brey said. “I told him, 'I'm just not going to play you for awhile so you can just play in practice without any pressure.'”

Over the next six league contests, he logged four DNP-CDs (did not play-coach's decision). Of the two he did play — 15 minutes at South Florida and three minute at home against Villanova — he finished with a combined two points and four rebounds.

An early-February home game against Louisville unfolded much like the previous six. Sherman watched and waited for a call that likely wouldn't come. But when Notre Dame and Louisville went to one overtime, then two, then three and four and five and Brey needed a big with fresh legs, Sherman was summoned.

“He really delivered,” Brey said.

Sherman shot 7-of-10 from the floor to finish with 17 minutes and six rebounds in 22 minutes, many of which unfolded with ESPN television analyst Dick Vitale hyperventilating about why No. 11 in Irish white hadn't played for the better part of a month.

The unexpected effort on an unbelievable night helped slingshot Sherman back into the rotation. He played in all 11 games the rest of the way, and only twice played fewer than 10 minutes.

“That he finished on a good note was a key,” Brey said. “I was really worried that he'd even want to come back for his fifth year the way it was going.”

Other players might have seen their role and minutes and importance diminishing and decided it was time to move on with their next phase in life. Sherman thought the opposite. The less he played the harder he worked and the more determined he grew to prove his decision to transfer to Notre Dame would work.

“I knew I was going to come back no matter what,” he said. “I love my teammates. I love my coaches.

“It was something I couldn't turn down.”

Sherman averaged 7.0 points and 3.4 rebounds in 15.6 minutes, all career-high numbers, last season. But something about how his game grew first showed this summer, something that stats couldn’t stress.

Sherman carried himself during scrimmages and offseason conditioning sessions as a confident guy. Quiet by nature, he became more vocal, finally secure with a prominent and important place in the program.

The voice of senior guard Eric Atkins was the strongest this summer. Second in line was Sherman's. When sophomore power forward Austin Burgett offered his spot to a freshman before one pickup game, Sherman scolded Burgett with a reminder that sophomores don't ever do that.

Sherman would speak, and others would listen.

“You can't do that unless you have confidence in yourself,” Brey said. “I feel good about his frame of mind.”

And about his game. With three power forwards (Zach Auguste, Eric Katenda, Tom Knight) out with injuries, Sherman scored a game-high 21 points on 10-of-14 shooting with six rebounds and three assists in 25 minutes during a 95-69 victory in Monday's exhibition opener.

“I knew I was going to play a lot coming into the game so I knew I needed to be effective and play hard,” Sherman said. “I was able to do that.”

Brey believes Sherman should be that type of factor all season. One trademark during Brey's 14-plus year tenure has been how seniors (Cooley, Ben Hansbrough, Ryan Humphrey, Ty Nash, Chris Quinn, etc.) have had their best individual seasons as seniors.

Sherman can do the same. He's old, he's experienced and, maybe most importantly, he finally feels part of the program.

“It's a good comfort level right now,” he said.

Notre Dame's Garrick Sherman, right, tries to block a shot by Indianapolis' Leland Brown during the exhibition game between Notre Dame and Indianapolis on Monday, Oct. 28, 2013, inside the Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center on the campus of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend.