When the UMBC men’s basketball team opens the 2018-19 season on Tuesday night against Marquette at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, it will mark Joe Sherburne’s first opportunity to play in front of family members and friends from nearby Whitefish Bay, Wis., since his senior year in high school nearly five years ago.
The graduate student forward said he does not expect to be nervous before the game — with one exception.
“The only thing I’d be worried about is getting my ankles broken or airballing pretty bad,” he joked. “But other than that, I think it should be pretty normal.”
The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Sherburne’s calm demeanor is the salve for a Retrievers program coming off its most fruitful season in school history but now tasked with trying to duplicate that success despite the graduation of three of last year’s top five scorers. Sherburne, one of only four players with three seasons of college basketball experience and the only team captain, has said the current squad is no longer dwelling on its becoming the first No. 16 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed in the NCAA basketball tournament, and his objective is to be a catalyst this winter.
“I only want to make additions,” he said. “I don’t want to have anything drop off. I just want to make sure I maintain what I’ve been doing the last three years and add on. I want to be a better rebounder and get better on defense.”
Sherburne’s achievements on the court — he ranked in the top four on the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals per game last season — are almost as varied as his personal traits and likes:
» Sherburne, who earned his undergraduate degree in financial economics with a 4.0 GPA and is pursuing a graduate degree in data science, said the last time he got anything less than an A was his senior year in high school when he got a B-plus in an Advanced Placement U.S. history course. “My parents are really smart,” Sherburne, who is the youngest of three brothers, said of his academic drive. “My brother was really smart. He went to Princeton and got A’s. My other brother was also really smart. So I just wanted to not lose to them.”
» Sherburne’s favorite book and movie franchise is “Harry Potter.” He has read the series twice and the seventh book three times. Older brother Jimmy said Joe’s affinity for the films is strong. “I’ve caught him in the bathroom just going on a monologue of a ‘Harry Potter’ scene by himself,” Jimmy said. “He didn’t know I was listening, but it went on for at least five minutes.” Said Joe, who was paid in baked goods by classmates at Brewster Academy where he prepped for one year after high school to perform scenes for others: “I guess there weren’t any songs in my head at that time.”
» Sherburne loves dogs so much that he would visit a childhood friend to play with his two dogs even if the friend was absent, Jimmy Sherburne recalled. Joe Sherburne, senior center Nolan Gerrity, junior forward Sam Schweitz and sophomore forward Brandon Horvath adopted a 5-month-old puppy after last season, but the puppy contracted an illness and was euthanized, which shook up Sherburne. He acknowledged that not only was UMBC the only Division I program to make him an offer, but he also was partially swayed by the university’s canine mascot. “I had never heard of [the school], and then I looked at the mascot, and I thought, ‘OK, if worse comes to worse, I’ll come here because they have a dog mascot, and it’ll be fine,’” he said.
» Sherburne can recall conversations from years ago, which coach Ryan Odom confirmed. “I think I said something one day, ‘Last year, after we lost that Vermont game, we didn’t lose another game until Kansas State.’ He said, ‘Well, actually, we lost to Stony Brook,’” Odom said. “So he will correct me, which is great.” Sherburne’s memory includes every play the coaches have drawn up. “If we have a play, we’ll do it once, and I’ll know all the spots, and it’s pretty easy,” he said.
For these reasons and others, Odom said Sherburne is an invaluable cog of the program.
“He’s everything,” Odom said. “He’s exemplifies what we want to be as a program — a tremendous student, doesn’t ever settle for anything. He competes to be the best in the classroom, and that means something to him. Likewise, he competes on the court. He gets the most out of his ability. He’s not the most athletic guy, and he’s not the best ballhandler out on the court. Sometimes he’s not the best shooter on the court. Shooters always have ups and downs, but what doesn’t change is his commitment to being excellent. I think that’s where everything starts with him.”
Sherburne nearly winced when informed of Odom’s assessment.
“I think he might be overdoing it a little,” he said. “I think I’m an all-around player. If I’m not scoring and you think I’m not doing anything, then you’re probably not paying attention. I think when I’m in there, I’m a calming presence.”
Sherburne’s tranquility might be tested Tuesday when he plays in Milwaukee. Paul Sherburne said he and his wife, Jan, expect as many as 30 family members and friends to attend the game. But there is a limit to their exuberance, which Paul Sherburne said will not involve any T-shirts with his son’s face on them or life-size likenesses of him.
“We’ll just wear the UMBC shirts, the black and gold,” he said. “In fact, Joe would prefer that we don’t. He doesn’t like to have attention called to him. We’re pretty subdued about that. We’ll hoot and holler a bit, but no Fatheads.”
Although Jan earned her bachelor’s degree from Marquette and both graduated from the law school there in 1984, Paul Sherburne said there is no question about where their loyalty lies.
“Blood is thicker than water,” he said.