Duke

Coach K ‘transformed his life.’ Now this coach leads his team against the Blue Devils.

As a young boy of, say 10 or 11 years old back in the early 1980s, Mark Sherrill posed a question.

“Where’s Cameron?”

Some Duke students at the school’s East Campus, down the street from where Sherrill stayed with his grandparents on Maxwell Avenue, pointed him to a bus that would take him to West Campus and Duke’s famous basketball home.

When Sherrill got off the bus, he asked again, “Where’s Cameron?”

He was pointed in the proper direction but entered Card Gym, next door to Cameron Indoor Stadium, where he started playing pick-up basketball games with Duke students.

Finally discovering he still wasn’t in the right place, he headed next door, found an open door and made his way into Cameron where he started shooting baskets.

A young coach named Mike Krzyzewski, having yet to win an ACC championship or even take the Blue Devils to the NCAA tournament at that point, discovered the young visitor.

“I told him who I was and that my grandparents lived right down the street from Duke,” Sherrill said in a phone interview with The News & Observer Wednesday morning. “He knew where I grew up. This wasn’t about him recruiting me. He saw that I was a young kid trying to stay out of the streets and he allowed me to start coming in and shooting around and watching practice. That transformed my life.”

It so transformed Sherrill’s life that the journey came full circle on Wednesday night. Now head coach at Fort Valley State in Georgia, Sherrill lead his Division II team in an exhibition game against Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils with Duke winning 126-57.

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Fort Valley State coach Mark Sherrill stands with his team prior to their exhibition game against Duke on Wednesday, October 30, 2019 at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C. Sherrill was befriended by Mike Krzyzewski as a young man growing up in Durham. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

He no longer has to ask “where’s Cameron?” It is where his team faced the nation’s No. 4-ranked team and he faced off in a coaching battle against the sport’s all-time leader in coaching wins.

“Mark and I, the relationship we have is really kind of the relationship we have with Durham,” Krzyzewski said after Wednesday night’s game. “I got to know him before we were any good. He’s just a kid from Durham and we became friends.”

Sherrill attended Durham’s E.K. Powe Elementary before matriculating to Carrington Middle School, where he was a fellow student with Krzyzewski’s oldest daughter, Debbie.

At old Durham High, Sherrill’s prolific shooting ability made him a star player who was nominated for the McDonald’s All-American team.

Sherrill said Krzyzewski didn’t recruit him to Duke.

“He told me I needed to get away from home,” Sherrill said. “I always respected that.”

Sherrill, Krzyzewski set up exhibition game

Admittedly not the best student and having overcome a speech impediment, Sherrill opted for Charlotte’s Johnson C. Smith, where he thrived.

From 1988-92, he scored 2,552 points, a total that remains second on the school’s all-time scoring list. He was the program’s first all-American in 1991 and graduated with a sociology degree with a minor in criminal justice.

In 2016, the CIAA inducted Sherrill into its Hall of Fame.

Two years later, after 24 years as a Johnson C. Smith assistant coach, Sherrill became Fort Valley State’s head coach.

Last March, after his first season as the Wildcats’ head coach ended with a 7-22 record, he was back visiting Johnson C. Smith’s campus. With the ACC tournament in Charlotte, Duke used Smith’s Brayboy Gym as its practice facility.

Sherrill saw Krzyzewski and thanked him for taking care of him all those years ago in Durham. They talked about setting up an exhibition game.

“I said we haven’t scheduled our second exhibition game,” Krzyzewski said he told Sherrill. “You should just bring your kids home, to your home, and give everyone a chance to see what you are building and who you’ve become.”

Duke had an opening on its exhibition schedule this season. It always plays two Division II teams in the preseason, one being the reigning Division II champion. Northwest Missouri State filled that role last Saturday.

Sherrill’s Fort Valley State team was Krzyzewski’s opponent in Cameron Wednesday in No. 4 Duke’s final tune-up prior to Tuesday’s regular season-opener against No. 3 Kansas in New York.

It means the world,” Sherrill said. “I’m a Durham native, Durham born.”

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An Illinois native, Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. Prior to his arrival in Durham, he worked for newspapers in Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Biloxi, Miss., and Charlotte covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly.
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