Prep Signing: Sherrill headed to national power Augusta State
By Mike London
MOUNT ULLA — Coach Mike Gurley recalls watching a 7-year-old straining to push a basketball toward the rim in the West Rowan gym.
“I remember thinking that kid had a chance to be pretty good,” Gurley said. “But I was wrong. He turned out to be pretty great.”
The kid stopped growing at 5-foot-10, but Keshun Sherrill, Rowan County and North Piedmont Conference Player of the Year, leaves behind quite a legacy — 1,907 points, 80 West victories, two regional trips and four banners for NPC regular-season or tournament championships.
The next step for Sherrill, who signed scholarship papers on Wednesday in front of beaming family members, is Augusta State, a Peach Belt Conference school that is a national power in Division II.
Augusta State played in the nationally televised championship game on CBS in 2008, made three straight Elite Eight appearances and at one point in 2010, was ranked No. 1 in the country.
“The Peach Belt is the ACC of Division II,” Augusta State coach Darren “Dip” Metress declared. “We don’t have gyms — we have arenas.”
Colleges don’t usually pursue 5-10 players avidly, although Lenoir-Rhyne coach John Lentz did everything in his power to coax Sherrill into moving to Hickory.
“L-R had a grasp on me,” admitted Sherrill, who averaged 21 points per game as a senior. “Until Augusta State came along.”
Sherrill’s road to Augusta, Ga., started before he was born. In the 1980s, Metress was Belmont Abbey’s star point guard. His teammate — and roommate — was Gurley.
Their paths diverged after that. Metress headed to the college coaching ranks. He became head man at Belmont Abbey in 1996 and was hired to lead Augusta State in 2004.
Gurley took the high school road with sensational success, winning a state title at Lexington and two more at West.
“Gurley was best man at my wedding, and then he starts having all these players,” Metress said with a laugh. “My wife kept asking me for years when was Mike going to send us one. It took a while, but we finally got one.”
Gurley asked Metress to give Sherrill a look, and Metress’ hectic schedule worked out in December. He was in North Carolina for a pre-Christmas tournament to scout a pair of standout point guards, but he still was able to make it to the North Rowan gym to watch Sherrill light up a stout team for 37 points.
Watching Sherrill bury shots from everywhere, Metress’ assistant Jamie Quarles nudged him in the ribs and said, “You’re serious. We’ve got a chance to get this guy?”
“We’ve seen three good college point guards today,” Metress replied, “but this is the best of the three. And, yes, we’ve got a chance.”
Metress let Gurley know he really wanted Sherrill and had a scholarship for him, and plans were laid for Sherrill to visit Augusta after the season was in the books.
Metress also scouted Sherrill in mid-February when West lost to Statesville in the NPC tournament championship game. Sherrill got in early foul trouble and couldn’t buy a jumper, but Metress was even more sold.
“What struck me was that his demeanor was no different than the night he hit everything,” Metress said. “And when Mike didn’t start him in the second half because of fouls, I could see him telling the kid replacing him what to do. He was coaching him. I knew then we had a chance to get not only a special player but a very special kid.”
Augusta State had a down year by its standards — 17-11 — but the Jaguars had solid young players. On his visit, Sherrill had a chance not only to meet them but to play with them. Metress saw him feed the post and make great decisions, as well as drain shots.
“He’s a true point, but he’s a point who can score,” Metress said.
Sherrill loved his visit.
“Nice, nice, nice,” he said. “Yeah, it’s a long way, but it’s a family-oriented place that felt like home. I got the feeling that it’s a winning community down there, and I just wanted to be part of it.”
Gurley is dealing with mixed emotions. You can’t replace 1,907 points. Nor can you duplicate the positive energy Sherrill brought to every game for four varsity seasons.
“It would be easy for me to stand here and tell you the Division I schools missed out,” Gurley said. “But I think Keshun wins and Augusta State wins. The best point guard I ever coached will be playing for the best point guard I ever played with, and I feel really good about that.”
Metress is equally enthused.
“A lot of little guards have hung big banners at Augusta State,” he said. “Keshun is one heck of a player for us to get.”