Jan. 9, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Chris Polk feeding flamingoes at the San Diego Zoo - then again running wild through Cornhuskers.
Jake Locker catching a pass before throwing one, then demanding his helmet back so he could play again while doctors were still checking him out on the sidelines at the Holiday Bowl.
Terrence Ross draining 3-pointers in his first Pac-10 road game to rescue the basketball team at USC, then flashing a grin that lit up a hallway on his way to the Huskies' bus in Los Angeles.
Roaring fans in purple forming two lines and an impromptu corridor in the lobby of the Manchester Grand Hyatt as the Huskies returned triumphantly to their team hotel in San Diego around midnight.
Of all the indelible images I saw during the Huskies' wondrous days in Southern California to end 2010, one is still making me laugh: Stunned, walk-on hoops forward Brendan Sherrer coming off the bench to check in late in the first half at USC on Dec. 29.
The game wasn't on TV. But I wish you could have seen the look on Sherrer's pale face as he walked from the Huskies' bench to the scorer's table at the Galen Center with about 2 minutes left in the opening period.
It was part kid on Christmas morning, part Grandma about to get run over by a reindeer.
"I wish I had a camera," Huskies assistant coach Paul Fortier later told the former member of the Dawg Pack student section at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
"The Human Victory Cigar" - so dubbed last year because he has played in 20 career games, all Washington wins by at least 18 points -- climbed out of the Dawg Pack to try out for a practice spot with the Huskies on Oct. 22, 2009. He ran through a few full-court layup drills then scrimmaged. At 6-feet-8, was the biggest and fittest walk-on candidate there, then won a job as a battering ram for inside work in Huskies practices.
"He was HORRIBLE," Huskies star Isaiah Thomas said of Sherrer when he first joined the team two years ago.
Thomas wasn't joking.
Now here was Sherrer about to enter as an emergency fix in the taut conference opener at SC that Wednesday night. A few of his pals and former Dawg Pack colleagues were going wild in the corners of the arena. They had made the drive up from the Holiday Bowl in San Diego to see what they thought was another Huskies hoops game.
They got far more: The shock of seeing Sherrer about to enter a close game.
"Oh, they were excited," Sherrer said. "Someone said, `Now you have to change your nickname.'"
Washington fell behind by 12, the fouls kept coming, and an exasperated Romar finally turned to his assistants and briefly considered burning the redshirt of 6-foot-7 freshman Desmond Simmons.
Then, Romar yelled, "Sherrer!" Again: "Sherrer!"
"You know, I am way down at the end of the bench, so I couldn't hear him," the soft-spoken junior said before practice at Hec Ed, before the Huskies (12-3, 4-0 Pac-10) walloped Oregon and Oregon State this weekend.
Finally, Romar screamed loud enough to be heard outside, in the arena's parking lots. All for this kid who has spent the last five summers fishing commercially out of Bristol Bay, Alaska, in the eastern-most arm of the Bering Sea.
"I jumped up, and he said, `Go in for Matt,'" Sherrer said, simply.
Imagine, one of the most respected coaches in the country was suddenly counting on a kid who two years ago called the basketball office after seeing a story in the UW Daily student newspaper. It wasn't even an ad - it was a short item in story about the Huskies seeking a practice player. Sherrer then did his own reporting, calling the student reporter seeking more information, then calling director of basketball operations Lance LaVetter. LaVetter told Sherrer when to show up, and to make sure he already passed a physical so he could practice.
Sherrer went home to visit his family doctor, paid for his own exam -- then beat out about a half dozen other walk-ons for the privilege of practicing with the Huskies.
Now Romar was asking this kid to replace the senior starter who is the current Pac-10 player of the week. Two minutes still remained in the first half of the tense, rugged game when Bryan-Amaning picked up his second foul. Romar didn't want MBA to get a third before the half.
So Washington's "Rudy" was going in.
"Yeah, it was kind of a jolt," he said, understating it by, oh, a mile. "You know, entering this year the coaches said to me, `Be ready to go in at any time.' But, yeah, that was kind of an awakening."
He had to wake up quickly. He had about 10 seconds to take off his supposedly permanent game wardrobe of warm-up shirt and pants and process his new responsibilities as he walked from Romar to midcourt.
"I started going through all the steps in my mind of the game plan, of the scouting report, of what I had to do," said the 6-8 former screen setter and rebounder at Archbishop Murphy High School in Everett, Wash.
"Oh, yeah, I was nervous," Sherrer said that night in L.A., laughing after the Dawgs' overtime win while on his way to the team bus. "I mean, I haven't been into a game in the first half before."
He still hasn't.
Like Horton sitting forever on that bird's egg without moving in the old Dr. Seuss tale, Sherrer sat on the floor in front of that scorer's table. And sat. And ... sat.
While the Huskies on the floor did double takes over their shoulder at the walk-on waiting to replace one of them, Sherrer remained anchored to the maroon-painted sideline. Astoundingly, a game that had 49 fouls called in 45 total minutes went without a whistle for 2 whole minutes. The half ended with Sherrer still at that scorer's table.
"I kept expecting to go in," he said, still sounding a bit disappointed a week later. "For all the stops in that game, going 2 minutes without one was strange." So was the entire night.
Bryan-Amaning survived the half without committing the third foul, en route to 18 points and eight rebounds. Washington finally outlasted the Trojans in overtime. And Sherrer still has only played at the end of blowout wins, including 3 minutes at the end of Saturday's 103-72 race past Oregon State.
That's bound to change -- soon. Pac-10 officials are blowing whistles a lot this season. And for all the depth the Huskies have bragged about with new sharpshooters Ross and C.J. Wilcox joining Darnell Gant and Scott Suggs off the bench at guard, Washington remains alarmingly thin inside.
Sherrer knows it. Good thing he is now under the training and maintenance program of the Huskies' scholarship athletes. His 6-8 body has added muscle, and his game has gotten similarly solid.
Solid enough to be Romar's midgame bailout plan down low, if need be. "Yeah, it's definitely a role I would have to fill if guys get in foul trouble again," Sherrer says.
"And I'm ready."