After Steve Alford's first year with the Wolf Pack, there were question marks about who Nevada's point guard would be in his second season after Lindsey Drew graduated and Jalen Harris entered the NBA draft.
A few weeks after its season ended, the Wolf Pack received a potential answer. Nevada landed combo guard Grant Sherfield from Wichita State. During Sherfield's lone season with the Shockers, he averaged 8.1 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game while shooting 35.3 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from three. Sherfield seemed to be a great piece for the future, but as a transfer it seemed unlikely he'd be eligible to play for Nevada this season.
That changed in September, just a few weeks before the season was due to start, when Sherfield was granted a waiver for immediate eligibility. Four months and 15 games later, it's hard to imagine where the Wolf Pack would be without Sherfield this season.
"It was exciting because after transferring nobody wants to sit out a whole year to play basketball," said Sherfield, who has led Nevada to a 10-5 record and is playing as well as anybody in the Mountain West. "I was just really excited to get to work with this great group of guys, and I’m happy I had the opportunity to play this year."
Playing for Wichita State in the American Athletic Conference, Sherfield was no stranger to high-level college basketball, averaging nearly 25 minutes per game as a part-time starter as a true freshman. But he's taken his game to a completely new level as a sophomore at Nevada, although that hasn't been a surprise to Alford, who initially signed Sherfield out of high school while UCLA's coach.
"The only thing that’s surprised me to date is he hasn’t been named player of the week in the league yet," Alford said. "That’s my only surprise. The league obviously doesn’t know about him yet, and that’s fine because it’s just the tip of the iceberg with him. He’s only going to get better. He’s the only guy in the league that’s had six-straight 20-plus games. You look at him this week, he averaged 25 (points) and six (assists), shot 53 percent from the field, almost 92 from the free throw line, including 10-for-10 in game two. Shot 42 percent from the three point line. He was phenomenal (against Fresno State), but he’s been really good since conference play resumed for us after the break.
In Nevada's last three Mountain West series — versus New Mexico, San Diego State and Fresno State — Sherfield has averaged 23.3 points per game, six assists per game and shot 48.3 percent from the field and 90.7 percent from the free throw line.
"If you look at stats, he’s top three in the conference in scoring," Alford said. "He’s top 10 in free throw percentage, he’s top 10 in steals, he’s top 10 in assists, he’s top 10 in minutes played, he’s top 10 in percentage in shooting the basketball, he’s just doing a lot of good things to start his career here, and I only think he’s at the start, I really do. I’ve seen a lot out of him, recruiting him for a long time, and if he continues to listen and learn, this is going to be an individual who just keeps getting better and that’s kind of exciting."
Alford's relationship with Sherfield goes back to when he was the head coach at UCLA and Sherfield was in his early prep days.
"You can’t talk to coaches during dead periods, so the first time I saw him was during my sophomore year of high school in Vegas playing in the Adidas Gauntlet," Sherfield said. "After that, I want to say they called me and from there it was just a wrap."
Sherfield signed with UCLA out of high school in November 2018 but was released from his letter of intent after Alford was fired. Sherfield had offers from Power 5 schools like Kansas, Baylor, LSU and Cal, among others, but stayed close to home and committed to Wichita State. When Sherfield was looking for a new school after the Shockers' Gregg Marshall saga, he chose Nevada over Arkansas, Baylor and San Diego State because of his relationship with Alford.
"Coach is just a very genuine guy," Sherfield said. "So when I was looking for a new place to go, I just wanted to go somewhere where someone actually cared about you. A lot of coaches when you get on campus and they get you, its different. But with Coach Alford, he still reaches out to my family, he still always checks in on me, he’s just a great guy."
The Fort Worth, Texas native said one of his earliest memories of basketball was practicing with his father at the YMCA. Years later, it's been the love for the game that has kept him playing for so long.
"It’s just the feeling you get when you step on to the court and they tip the ball off," Sherfield said. "You can’t explain the feeling that you have, so it’s just the love for the game honestly."
While it can be tough for a transfer to find their niche during their first season at a new school, Alford credits listening and learning as two of the factors to Sherfield's success so far.
"He’s really young," Alford said. "I know how competitive he is. He reminds me a lot of Aaron Holiday, who I had at UCLA and Aaron had that chip on his shoulder, and kind of a scoring point guard mentality but I’ve tried to tell Grant the thing that Aaron came to campus with at UCLA was the ability to really defend and he fought ya, he’d pick you up full court, he’d really get into you and I think that’s one of the reasons why Aaron is with the Pacers right now. So Grant wants to be there one day, and I think he’s learning."
Despite playing for Nevada for only a couple of months, Sherfield's improvement has been impressive. He's averaging career highs in basically every statistical category, including points (18.7), assists (5.7), rebounds (4.0), steals (1.7) and has improved his shooting vastly, from 35.3 percent from the field to 45.2 percent and from 30.4 percent from three to 41.2 percent.
"I shot, like, 25 percent from three last year, and Coach Alford has done a lot to help me with my shot, just staying on it on my follow-through," Sherfield said. "I want to say I’m up to 40-something now. I mean, they’re helping me a lot and just trusting the process, just trusting what they’re saying and just doing everything they say, so you just have to listen at this level if you want to be a high-level player, and that’s something I’m learning right now, so I just try to be all ears to all of the coaches and just learn as much as possible."
Sherfield credits watching film of NBA stars Chris Paul and Fred VanVleet to help mold his game. The Wolf Pack coaches give Sherfield film of VanVleet, a former Wichita State star who is in his fifth season with the Toronto Raptors, to study as he tries to one day get to the NBA level. Despite only being a sophomore, Sherfield was voted a team captain for the season and has been the team's floor general on the court and a helpful teammate off it.
"I just try to help the guys out any way possible," Sherfield said. "Even if it’s just teaching guys how to get open on the cut in practice. The young guys, they sometimes struggle getting open on the cut. It’s just the little things that I’ve learned from older guys who’ve taught me that I’ve tried to help pass down to them. It’s just little things. It’s just fun being able to help younger guys get better."
One thing Sherfield hasn't been able to experience this season is playing in front of a raucous Lawlor Events Center, which has been limited to just 50 fans due COVID-19 restrictions. Sherfield is thankful to be playing this season and tries to pick out the positive parts of playing during a pandemic rather than finding excuses.
"This year has definitely been a challenge," Sherfield said. "It was definitely a challenge at the beginning of the year because it’s a lot different, but once you learn how to cope with everything, the online classes, the COVID testing and you just get a schedule down that you do every single day, you’re fine. Just not being able to go to class, everything is online, so it gives you more time to get into the gym."
Sherfield said the one thing he hasn't been able to do since moving to Reno is visit Lake Tahoe, although he has that on his to-do list once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Sherfield added he's never really seen mountains like those in Northern Nevada and has enjoyed those, but he typically stays home for his free time, so the pandemic hasn't impacted that.
"I’m really just a homebody," Sherfield said. "I’ll stay in my room if I’m not going to the gym to work out or go to practice. I’ll just stay in my room and play video games, talk to my family, that’s about all I really do. I play a lot of 2K and Madden. I’m more of a sports video game kind of guy. I like to play with my friends."
While he wants to finish this season strong, Sherfield is looking forward to next year as well when things are back to normal and the Wolf Pack is playing in front of crowds
"I just feel like it’s going to be very refreshing for any basketball player that’s playing at a Division I school," Sherfield said. "It’s going to be very refreshing because it’s going to feel like a big sigh of relief because we came a long way during this pandemic just playing through all of the COVID tests and everything. It’s going to be one of those moments when you can sit back, take a deep breath and enjoy it. It’s going to be a great feeling."
You can watch Grant Sherfield's full interview from Wolf Pack All Access below.