Human Victory Cigar May Start UW's Home Finale
Feb. 17, 2012
TV: FSN/ROOT Sports (Kevin Calabro & Marques Johnson)
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - From Dawg Pack fan to ... starting the biggest game of the Huskies' season?
That's what Brendan Sherrer is on the cusp of doing Saturday, when Washington (18-8, 11-3 Pac-12) hosts Arizona (19-8, 10-4) at noon at sold-out Alaska Airlines Arena with the conference title on the line. It's on ROOT Sports and Fox Sports Network television, the Washington IMG College radio network, and here again on GoHuskies.com with the exclusive chat, play-by-play, analysis, pictures and video from courtside.
It's Senior Day, the final home game for captain Darnell Gant and for Tyreese Breshers, a forward who was forced to retire before last season because of a medical condition but has remained with the team.
And it is the home finale for Sherrer, the former fan in the Huskies' student section at Alaska Airlines Arena who answered an advertisement in UW's student newspaper, The Daily, for a walk-ons tryout three seasons ago.
"He was a in the Dawg Pack!" Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said, his voice rising incredulously. "C'mon! Across the country, how many players were in the student section painting their faces, cheering, and now (being) on a team for three years?
"And I'm telling you - it may sound like a contradiction because it hasn't happened - but there's not a game on our schedule where Brendan Sherrer goes in a game and I would have to..."
Romar then covered his eyes.
"He'd hold his own. Brendan comes out every day and pushes guys. He's tough, physically tough. You'd never know he started out in the Dawg Pack. I think that's a phenomenal story.
"It's been a bonus for him. And it's been a bonus for me, to have him part of our group."
Sherrer has played 65 minutes in 29 career games, all of them mop-up appearances in the final minutes of comfortable wins. Steve Physioc of FSN, who called Sherrer's latest cameo at the end of Thursday night's win over Arizona State, first uttered the nickname "Human Victory Cigar" for him to a national audience a couple seasons ago.
A 6-foot-8, 245-pound former member of a state high school championship team at Archbishop Murphy in Everett, Wash., Sherrer could have walked on at the University of Portland. He stayed home instead.
Yet he has never started. He's made four of the 11 career shots he's taken in those 65 minutes over 29 games. His appearance in the final 2 minutes of the 77-69 victory over ASU was the first time he's appeared in a Huskies game decided by fewer than 17 points.
So, no, he's not exactly expecting to start in this huge showdown on national television against Arizona, a thrilling, intense series in which the last three games have been decided in the final possession.
"Oh, no!" Sherrer said, partly laughing, partly scoffing at the unlikelihood. "Play to win, so whatever coach decides."
Yet Friday, Romar made it sound not only possible but perhaps likely that the former fan behind the Huskies' bench comes off it to start Saturday. The Huskies' coach has done it before, starting seniors who otherwise wouldn't, just for the final home game. One season a few years ago he had so many seniors, including walk-ons, he couldn't start them all.
He only has two in uniform this season; senior Scott Suggs is redshirting because of a broken foot.
"There's something about, even for the walk-ons -- and we won't always do it, it's something I'm still debating right now - but there's just something about later on in life you remember your name was called in the starting lineup," Romar said before Friday's practice.
"'AND AT THE OTHER FORWARD... AT THE OTHER GUARD ... AND AT CENTER ...' -- it's something that seems very small. But when you get that opportunity sometimes, it's really special.
"I'm just not sure yet. We'll see."
Romar was an assistant under Jim Harrick at UCLA in the 1990s, when the Bruins won a national championship.
"You know what?" Romar said of Harrick and seniors starting their final home games at UCLA. "He did it ever year. I can't remember one time it has affected the game in a negative fashion - not one time ... ever.
"In fact, there have been times even as an assistant when I was thinking, `Maybe not this year.' And we went on a 10-0 run to start the game. Somehow it just doesn't affect the end result of a game."
When it was said the Dawg Pack would go bonkers over one of its own starting and give the home arena, sold out for the second time this season Saturday, a jolt from the get-go, Romar laughed.
"The crowd better go nuts, regardless, on this one," he said.
"In that whiteout at Arizona (a madhouse at McKale Center which UW endured to get a big win Jan. 28), it wasn't Senior Night or anything."
Romar was totally against the idea of holding an open tryout three years ago. He had conducted one when he was the head man at Saint Louis, in the job he had immediately before he took over the Huskies. And it didn't go well, at all.
But Huskies assistant coach Paul Fortier, who had been forced to practice early that year because of a lack of depth among big men, pushed for a campus-wide search of potential help for Washington's notoriously rugged practices. So the UW basketball office placed an unusual want-ad in The Daily.
Sherrer saw it - and couldn't fathom it.
"When you are in the Dawg Pack and looking down, you wish "Man, I wish I was in there with those guys.' And then when you get the opportunity, you don't turn that down," he said.
"I couldn't believe it at first."
He 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. He was the biggest walk-on candidate there among a bunch of wannabe guards.
His size was the only reason he won the audition to become a battering ram for inside work in practices.
"He was HORRIBLE," then-Huskies star Isaiah Thomas said of Sherrer when the walk-on first joined the team two years ago.
Thomas wasn't joking.
Asked Friday if he saw any talent the first day he saw Sherrer play, Romar didn't crack a smile.
"No," the coach said flatly.
Sherrer still remembers his initial workout with the Huskies as "the hardest practice I've ever been through."
Gant, Thomas, Quincy Pondexter and the rest of the Huskies were slogging through a mistake-filled day. So Romar ordered a series of punitive sprints.
Sherrer's lucky day, eh?
"I was making all sorts of strange noises, trying to catch my breath," he said. "I just remember thinking, `Gosh, what did I get myself into?'"
Over time, his fitness improved. He became more rugged in the low post. Suddenly, by the start of his junior season, Romar felt Sherrer could hold his own inside, and not just in practices.
Last Dec. 29, foul trouble on UW's big men forced Sherrer to check into the conference opener at USC late in the first half. After the game, Fortier said "I wish I had a camera" to capture the stunned look on Sherrer's face as he sat at the scorer's table waiting to check into the tight game.
On Feb. 4 this season, Sherrer passed up an open chance at his first career 3-point shot at the end of a blowout win over USC. After the game he asked Romar if it would have been OK to take the shot. Romar assured him it would have given it might have been the only chance he'll get before graduating.
Thursday, Sherrer entered with 2 minutes left in Washington's cruise past Arizona State. On his first offensive possession, freshman walk-on Alex Wegner looked into the deep corner to an open Sherrer, but the deflected pass went off the anxious big man's hands.
On the next trip down, Romar yelled out "42."
"It's something we've been working on all week for Brendan," Romar joked after the game, with a dramatic pause. "No, it wasn't."
Sherrer said he had no idea what play "42" - his jersey number - was. Yet he set a screen to the right of the foul line then popped out to deep right wing behind the 3-point arc. He took the pass and let loose his long-awaited, first 3-point try. A Sun Devil ran at him late and seemed to affect the shot.
The ball fell short of the rim by about a foot.
He doesn't want that to be his last on-court moment in a Huskies game.
Sherrer will walk in Washington's graduation ceremonies in June, but he won't complete his last class until the fall. Then he will take his biology degree and apply to dental school. UW's is his first choice.
So, yes, there's a chance Sherrer could be back in the Dawg Pack at the start of next season, buying season student tickets to watch the team for which he may even start on Saturday.
"We'll see. I don't know," Sherrer said of how he will be watching Huskies games this fall. "I haven't talked to the (team) about that yet."
Teammates are already on Gant, expecting a flow of tears as the fifth-year senior is introduced with his mother before Saturday's game. Romar said it will be tough for him not to cry thinking of all Gant has been through and how the aspiring actor and owner of a drama degree from Washington has grown in five years athletically, socially and academically since coming out as an overlooked recruit from Crenshaw High School in south Los Angeles, the same area in which Romar grew up.
Will Sherrer be emotional, as well?
"I don't know," Sherrer said. "We'll see."
He has 17 cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles coming Saturday. He and Gant have spent the last couple weeks scoring extra tickets from the allotment of four each of their underclassmen teammates get for each game. They were still scrambling Friday to get more.
Asked if these three years from Dawg Pack to Dawg player has been everything he's wanted, Sherrer thought and said: "You probably know. Not everything I wanted. Every person who plays a sport wants to be the best (player).
"But it's been a great experience," he said. "And I don't regret any of the time."