Joe Santoro: Sherfield latest Nevada Wolf Pack guard to make immediate impact

Grant Sherfield, against Boise State at Lawlor Events Center in Reno on Feb. 5. (Photo: University of Nevada)

Grant Sherfield, against Boise State at Lawlor Events Center in Reno on Feb. 5. (Photo: University of Nevada)

Desmond Cambridge sent a message to the rest of the Mountain West this week.
“By the way,” the Nevada Wolf Pack junior said as a Zoom conference call with the media ended, “he definitely deserves Player of the Year.”
Cambridge, everyone understood, was talking about Wolf Pack sophomore point guard Grant Sherfield. The 6-foot-2 Sherfield, though, sent his own message to the conference last weekend in two victories over Boise State.
Sherfield scored 49 points in the two games with 22 assists and five steals, draining five 3-pointers, all eight of his free throws and pulling down nine rebounds. Boise State came to Nevada with just one conference loss all season long and left with three, thanks mainly to Sherfield.
“He was phenomenal,” Wolf Pack coach Steve Alford said. “He’s been great for us all year.”
It took a while but the Mountain West has finally noticed and rewarded Sherfield. The league named him its Player of the Week for the first time on Monday even though he likely could have already won it two or three times.
“It feels good but I’m just happy to get the sweep,” Sherfield said.
Player of the Week, though, is likely just the first of many Mountain West honors for Sherfield this year. As Cambridge said, the Pack point guard just might be the best player in the league, becoming just the second Wolf Pack player to win the prestigious award in the Mountain West along with Caleb Martin (2017-18).
“He’s just controlling games,” Alford said.
Sherfield, right now, is controlling the Mountain West. He leads the conference in assists (6.2 a game), steals (1.6) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.60) and is second in scoring (18.9) and free throw shooting (.882 on a conference-high 105-of-119 free throws). His 19.6 scoring average in conference games leads the conference.
Winning the Player of the Year award will likely depend on how high the Pack finishes in the regular season standings. But there’s no questioning Sherfield’s value to the Pack this season.
All you have to do is ask Alford. The Pack coach gave Sherfield the Player of the Week award before it was even announced this week. “There really should not be a vote,” Alford said.
Alford could just as easily have been talking about the Player of the Year award. The numbers alone put Sherfield in the conversation for the award. But his value to the Wolf Pack makes him the obvious choice as the league’s best player.
There is not a more valuable player in the Mountain West this season than Sherfield. The Wolf Pack, thanks to Sherfield, is in the thick of the Mountain West regular season race at 14-7 overall and 9-5 in league play. And to think the NCAA only cleared him to play this season (after transferring from Wichita State) back in September.
A lot of what Sherfield has done this season is not a surprise. He was, after all, a one-time recruit of Alford’s at UCLA. And if Alford wasn’t fired before Sherfield first stepped on campus, the two might be doing all of this in the Pac-12 right now. Sherfield also played in 30 games with a dozen starts last season at Wichita State. So it was clear he was going to step right into a ton of minutes at Nevada after the Pack lost guards Jalen Harris, Jazz Johnson, Lindsey Drew and Nisre Zouzoua off last year’s team.
But Sherfield’s transformation after just 21 games this season from a backup point guard at Wichita State to one of the best point guards in the nation has been stunning.
He has scored 10 or more points in 19-of-21 games this year and 20 or more 11 times. He’s had at least one steal in every game. He’s had four or more assists in 19-of-21 games and two or fewer turnovers 13 times.
This is the same guy who averaged 8.1 points and 2.9 assists while shooting 30 percent on threes and 35 percent from the floor last year. During one 15-game stretch last season at Wichita State, from Jan. 1 through Feb. 23, he shot just 27 percent (29-of-109) from the floor, 20 percent on threes (9-of-45) and averaged 6.3 points a game.
And now he is arguably the best player in his conference and one of the best in the nation. And he’s just learning the game.
“Where you are seeing the most growth right now out of Grant is defensively,” Alford said. “He’s grown an awful lot on the defensive end.”
Sherfield will have three more seasons (if the NBA doesn’t come calling) after this year with which to hone his craft and become one of the greatest point guards in Wolf Pack history. This season, after all, doesn’t count against his (or any player’s) eligibility because of COVID-19.
We’ll let Sherfield’s Pack career play out before we start naming him one of the best point guards in school history.
But we can start to compare him with other great debut seasons for Pack point guards in recent decades. So where does Sherfield’s rookie Wolf Pack season rank among the debut seasons of Wolf Pack point guards over the last four decades?
Well, it turns out that Sherfield, despite his phenomenal Wolf Pack debut season, is merely continuing a Wolf Pack tradition of standout rookie Pack point guards.
The Wolf Pack over the past four decades, since the start of the 1980-81 season, has had several point guards step right in and make a major impact on the program in their first Nevada season.
A look back, in chronological order, at the top debut seasons of Wolf Pack point guards since 1980-81:
1980-81
B.B. FONTENET
Fontenet, who played his first two seasons at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College, had a strong debut season for the Pack as a junior in 1980-81, averaging 15.7 points, 7.2 assists and 1.5 steals. He turned the ball over a bit too much (5.4 a game) and didn’t get to the free throw line often (just 80 free throws all year) but he rarely left the floor (38.7 minutes a game) in coach Sonny Allen’s first season.
Supporting cast: Greg Palm (18.0 points, 11.3 rebounds, 48 blocks), Eddie Johnson (12.5 points, 6.7 rebounds), Robert Martin (10.0 points, 7.6 rebounds).
Team record: 11-15, 5-9 in Big Sky Conference.
1981-82
BILLY ALLEN
Allen, the coach’s son, took over the main point guard duties for Fontenet in 1981-82. Allen, who played his first two seasons at SMU for his father (he sat out the 1980-81 season) was brilliant in 1981-82, averaging 8.6 assists a game, which is still a Wolf Pack record for a single season. The 6-1 Allen also averaged 11.5 points, 1.4 steals, 2.1 rebounds and 3.1 turnovers a game.
Supporting cast: B.B. Fontenet (15.3 points, 3.6 assists), Ken Green (18.4 points, 5.0 rebounds), Greg Palm (13.5 points, 11.1 rebounds), Sam Mosley (10.8 points, 8.6 rebounds).
Team record: 19-9, 9-5 in Big Sky Conference.
1983-84
CURTIS HIGH
High, another junior, took over for Allen and helped lead the Pack to its first NCAA Tournament in 1983-84. The 6-foot High averaged 13.3 points, 6.3 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 2.8 steals in his first Pack season. He scored 21 points against Washington in the 1984 NCAA tournament and also led the Pack to the tournament the following year where he scored 14 points against North Carolina State.
Supporting cast: Dannie Jones (12.3 points, 4.8 rebounds), Ed Porter (9.0 points, 5.2 rebounds), Quentin Stephens (8.8 points, 7.0 rebounds), Tony Sommers (8.1 points, 5.8 rebounds).
Team record: 17-14, 7-7 in Big Sky Conference
1986-87
DARRYL OWENS
The 6-foot Owens averaged 13.8 points, 2.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists as a sophomore in his Pack debut, starting 22-of-27 games. He was just 7-of-24 on threes in his first year but later developed into a reliable 3-point shooter, making 34 percent for his 3-year Pack career. He also turned the ball over 4.3 times a game his first year to go along with 2.2 steals.
Supporting cast: David Wood (12.1 points, 9.4 rebounds), Boris King (18.5 points, 4.6 rebounds), Mario Martin (9.1 points, 4.7 rebounds), Bryon Strachan (8.3 points).
Team record: 15-15, 7-7 in Big Sky Conference
1988-89
KEVIN SOARES
Soares, a true freshman, averaged 9.0 points, 5.6 assists and 2.1 rebounds a game on a team that still had Owens. That team also had Kevin Franklin so Soares didn’t have to shoot much (just 78-of-199 in 28 games) as a freshman. Soares had 40 steals and turned the ball over just three times a game and was a true floor leader as a freshman.
Supporting cast: Darryl Owens (22.7 points, 5.1 assists), Kevin Franklin (17.7 points), Gabe Parizzia (13.0 points 7.6 rebounds), Chris Rupp (11.1 points, 6.9 rebounds), Jon Baer (9.6 points, 7.4 rebounds).
Team record: 16-12 10-6 in Big Sky Conference
1993-94
EATHAN O’BRYANT
O’Bryant joined the Wolf Pack as a junior and immediately became one of the top guards in the Big West. O’Bryant averaged 8.3 assists a game to go along with 11.6 points and 3.6 rebounds. The 5-11 O’Bryant also had 2.6 steals a game and turned the ball over 4.4 times a game. Never a great shooter or scorer, O’Bryant was a 42 percent shooter from the floor and was just 15-of-58 on threes his first season.
Supporting cast: Jimmy Moore (19.2 points, 8.2 rebounds), Jerry Hogan (9.3 points), Walter Outlaw (10.9 points, 9.1 rebounds).
Team record: 11-17, 6-12 in Big West Conference
1997-98
ROBIN KENNEDY
Kennedy played just one season at Nevada as a senior. The 5-11 guard averaged 11.3 points and 6.4 assists a game. He also had 3.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals a game and made 52-of-146 threes (36 percent). His 180 assists led the Big West that season.
Supporting cast: Paul Culbertson (18.1 points), Jimmy Carroll (12.7 points), Marvin Wilson (9.3 points, 5.2 rebounds).
Team record: 16-12, 11-5 in Big West
2004-05
RAMON SESSIONS
Sessions stepped into a NCAA Tournament team as a freshman in 2004-05. He struggled with his shot, making just 6-of-27 threes, 69 percent of his free throws and 41 percent of his shots overall, while averaging 9.0 points a game. But the 6-3 guard played 31 minutes a game and averaged 5.2 assists while turning the ball over just three times a game. He also had 1.5 steals a game. He became just the second first-year Pack point guard to lead the Pack to the NCAA tournament after Curtis High in 1983-84. The Western Athletic Conference made Sessions its Freshman of the Year.
Supporting cast: Nick Fazekas (20.7 points, 9.4 rebounds), Kevinn Pinckney (12.5 points, 7.7 rebounds), Mo Charlo (9.4 points).
Team record: 25-7, 16-2 in WAC
2007-08
ARMON JOHNSON
Johnson, a true freshman out of Hug High, took over a team that had gone to the previous four NCAA tournaments but had lost standout players such as Fazekas, Sessions, Pinkney, Charlo, Kirk Snyder and Gary Hill-Thomas. Johnson, though, started 32-of-33 games, made 48 percent of his shots (35 percent of his threes) and 78 percent of his free throws. He averaged 11.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists a game. He also turned the ball over just 2.4 times a game. Like Sessions, Johnson was the WAC Freshman of the Year.
Supporting cast: Marcelus Kemp (20.0 points, 5.4 rebounds), JaVale McGee (14.1 points, 7.3 rebounds), Brandon Fields (12.4 points).
Team record: 21-12, 12-4 in WAC
2010-11
DEONTE BURTON
Burton hit the ground running as a Pack freshman, averaging 13.7 points, 3.5 assists and 23 rebounds a game. He got to the free throw line often, making 138-of-185 (75 percent) and hit 43-of-121 threes (36 percent). The 6-1 Burton had just 2.2 turnovers and game and 1.3 steals and was the third consecutive new Pack point guard to be named the WAC Freshman of the Year.
Supporting cast: Malik Story (14.5 points), Dario Hunt (12.4 points, 9.7 rebounds), Olek Czyz (12.3 points, 5.7 rebounds).
2015-16
LINDSEY DREW
Drew took over first-year coach Eric Musselman’s program as a freshman and averaged 5.4 points, 45 rebounds and 2.8 assists. But while the numbers weren’t eye-opening (senior Marqueze Coleman also helped with point guard duties), he made everything work for the Pack at both ends of the floor. The 6-4 Drew had 31 blocks, 167 rebounds and 56 steals and turned the ball over just 2.2 times a game, starting 35-of-37 games.
Supporting cast: Cam Oliver (13.4 points, 9.1 rebounds), D.J. Fenner (13.7 points), Marqueze Coleman (15.1 points, 3.3 assists), Tyron Criswell (13.3 points).
Team record: 24-14, 10-8 in Mountain West).

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