Home for the holidays: Sherman brings team back to his roots for Clarion Inn Thanksgiving Tip-off
Jeff Sherman never intended to be away from western Colorado his entire adult life.
He’s been back often, visiting his father, Al, who was his basketball coach at De Beque High School, and family.
And he’s brought his Central Methodist (Mo.) University basketball team to tournaments at Mesa State College a handful of times during his 25-year coaching career. He and Mesa State coach Jim Heaps played against one another in high school, Sherman at De Beque and Heaps at Delta.
“Very few of us know why a lot of things happen anyway,” Sherman said earlier this week as the team drove across three states to play in the Clarion Inn Thanksgiving Tip-off at Brownson Arena. The two former high school opponents will be opposing coaches at 7 tonight when the Eagles play Mesa State in the second game of the day. Metro State and CSU-Pueblo play at 5 p.m.
Sherman, 49, was a two-time all-state basketball player at De Beque, scoring more than 2,000 points in his career. He led the state in scoring his senior year, 1978 (he was the second-leading scorer in ‘77). In his final home game, he scored 60 points, the fourth-highest single-game performance in state history. His 897 points in the 1977-78 season rank third all-time in Colorado.
He played at Central Methodist after two years at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, and after a year as a high school coach, Sherman returned to Central Methodist to go to graduate school and be an assistant coach.
He had just gotten another high school coaching job when the head coaching position at Central Methodist opened up. He was offered the job at his alma mater, with a couple of caveats: He had to get out of the high school position, and he had to promise to stay three years.
“I had just gotten married and my wife and I were figuring out what we were going to do. I promised three years and those three years have developed into 25,” he said.
Fayette, Mo., which is halfway between Kansas City and St. Louis, became home, but it’s always nice for him to come back in Colorado.
This year is special, though.
When he walked into Brownson Arena on Wednesday night for practice, he was with his oldest son, Matt, a senior guard for the Eagles.
“The last thing we were talking about was him playing for me,” Sherman said of his son’s senior year in high school. “Mesa was one of his choices and he was getting ready to come out and visit. He liked Colorado. It was getting close to graduation and I was worried. I went to one of his buddies and asked, ‘What’s Matt telling you? I can’t get anything out of him.’ He said, ‘Mr. Sherman, he wants to play for you. He’s waiting for you to ask him to play.’
“That threw me for a loop. I didn’t want him pressured to be home. I wanted to get away (from home) and he didn’t mind Fayette. It’s a small town and he liked the college and our program. He did want a chance to play for me and make it where his mom doesn’t have to travel to watch him play.”
It was an easy recruiting trip.
“I asked him at the dinner table, kind of nonchalant, ‘Let me throw this at you. If you ever wanted to be close to home, I need a shooting guard.’ Three days later he signed at the high school.”
Matt Sherman, who also wants to be a coach, owns the all-time 3-point record at Central Methodist and should finish in the top seven or eight in scoring by the time he graduates.
Jeff Sherman’s youngest son, Ryan, plays football and runs track for the Eagles, and Sherman’s wife, Julee, is the vice president of finance and administration at the college, so Fayette has definitely become home.
The Sherman family and several friends will be in the crowd this weekend to watch the Eagles, who reached the NAIA Division I Sweet 16 last season.
They’ll also be celebrating Jeff Sherman’s latest accomplishment.
He was inducted into the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame last month, an honor that had him taken aback.
“That was quite the surprise,” he said. “What an honor.
“I got a letter this summer that I had been nominated and unanimously accepted. Getting to do all that last month, it was the highlight of my career. It kind of allows you to look back through the years and lets you see what you are doing has some validity.”
Sherman is 446-351 at Central Methodist.
“I haven’t worked a day in my life,” he said. “I get to wake up every day and do basketball. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do and I’m able to do it. I feel guilty in some ways because I’ve never thought I had to work.”