By Alexe van Beuren
Two years ago, John Sherman arrived at Water Valley High School.
Since then, he’s painted the railings between the court and the bleachers Water Valley blue, there’s a new scoring table, and as I interview him, Sherman’s also keeping an eye on the two men moving the scoreboards off the sidelines to behind the hoops. Sherman points out the freshly painted Water Valley Blue Devils’ logos with pride. “We’re giving the gym some identity,” Sherman says. “Something the kids can be proud of.”
Given that the boys’ basketball program at Water Valley has a troubled history (in the last four years, the team has won under ten games), it’s not surprising that Sherman is using all the props he can gather to instill some confidence into the team.
“It’s been tough around here the last four years,” Sherman says. Last year, in his first year of coaching, the team won only one game; now, three games into the season, “we’ve already doubled our wins,” Sherman grins as he tells me about the current record of 2-1.
According to his reasoning, the Blue Devils should only continue to improve: Sherman estimates it takes about three years to establish a solid basketball program. “I’m a real fundamentalist,” Sherman tells me. “And building basketball programs is something I’ve had some success with.”
During his twenty-eight years of coaching, Sherman spent twelve years at Oxford High School, where the boys won a state championship. At Myrtle High School in Union County, Sherman led the girls’ varsity basketball team to the state championships three times, winning it once (he also coached Armintie Price for four years, who is now a Kodak All-American player and was chosen third by the WNBA just last year).
“You’ve got to be a salesman,” Sherman tells me about his coaching style. “The kids have to buy in and believe in you.”
“Do the boys in Water Valley believe?” I ask, but coaches tend to be wary of forecasting victories, and Sherman is no exception. He just shrugs. “That remains to be seen.”
As well as battling with the basketball team’s past record, Sherman also has to deal with the new scourge of the school system: technology. “I asked the eighth grade basketball team how long they had to bring the ball over half-court,” he says. “One kid said eight seconds, because that’s what it was on his video game.”
For the record, it’s ten seconds, and comments like that make Sherman wish kids would put down the X-boxes and Playstations and go outside.
“I’m not saying everyone has to be a sports nut like I was,” he says. “But technology has really hindered development. I’ve been told that the kids in Water Valley don’t have a place to play.” He lifts his hands. “They’ve got a driveway,” he says. “They’ve got a backyard.”
Sherman, who grew up in Greenville, spent his own childhood playing football, baseball, and of course-basketball. In high school, he was a point guard; at his first year at Mississippi State University, he tried out for the team, but “they got rid of the jv team about six weeks after I started,” he says. “That ended my career.”
After spending a few semesters as a business major, Sherman looked up from calculating credits and debits in front of Monday Night Football and realized he was not destined for the corporate world.
“I love sports,” Sherman says. “I love all sports. But there’s just something about basketball that captures my heart.”’
Though I don’t hear a bell, some shift occurs and students stream into the gym, some talking and some racing to pick up basketballs. “It’s an intense sport,” Sherman says, his glasses shining in the morning light. “That’s what motivates me to coach it,” and he looks out at the kids shooting hoops.