After a whiff of singing success, Brandon Sherrod hitting right notes again for Yale
“They’re like, ‘They’re going to go to the (NCAA) Tournament, that’s going to suck and you’re going to regret the decision,’” recalled Bulldogs forward Brandon Sherrod. “There were a lot of people that (never) understood the opportunity in front of me.”
Instead, the questions. Always the questions. What the heck are you doing? The What-en-poofs?
“I got that from some people, like high school (friends) and guys at the local LA Fitness,” said Sherrod, whose Bulldogs (22-6, 13-1 Ivy League) punched their first NCAA Tournament ticket since 1962 with a 71-55 victory against Columbia on Saturday night.
“And I guess no one really understood. Even the name is hilarious: ‘The Whiffenpoofs.’ Like, what? No one’s ever encountered that situation before.”
The ballad starts something like this: Crazy-good basketball player (Sherrod) also happens to be a crazy-good singer. The crazy-good singer side of him auditions for one of the oldest and esteemed collegiate vocal groups in the nation. Said esteemed collegiate vocal group accepts him and requires a commitment to a world tour that will take him away from all that crazy-good basketball for a year.
“My parents understood,” explained the 6-6 senior, who passed on a season of hoops in order to see the globe singing with the ’Poofs, Yale’s all-male a capella group. “That was huge for me. My family was supportive. Teammates were really supportive, too, along with (Bulldogs) coach (James) Jones. So I didn’t have any problem telling people what was going on.”
No doubts. No regrets. Sherrod remembered standing last May in the shadows of the Eiffel Tower when it all clicked, when he realized this muse was the right one to follow.
“I’ll never forget just walking toward it,” said Sherrod, who entered the weekend averaging 12.2 points and a team-best 7.0 rebounds per contest, “and just taking a deep breath like, ‘Wow, this is what I’ve seen in books, this is what I’ve seen on TV, this is what I’ve dreamed about since my parents told me about (it).’ Just being able to say I’ve been to France, I’ve been to the Eiffel Tower, I’ve seen the light show up close right before the lights go out. That’s when I knew it was really real.”
In all, Sherrod sang in 26 different countries. He played congas by the beach in Tanzania, jamming until 4 in the morning with another musical group. He hiked with a friend to top of a mountain in New Zealand and surveyed the miles of green, the splendor, and asked himself how science could explain that view that you’re seeing.
In the meantime, he kept his senior season — this season — always in the back of his mind, always the dangling carrot. He tried to stay in shape, running when time allowed, playing pick-up games where he could. During the Whiffenpoofs’ domestic leg, earlier in the 2014-15 season, the group often flew back to the East Coast, so Sherrod made his hometown of Bridgeport, Conn., his base, playing at a local LA Fitness to keep sharp.
“Sometimes the competition would be very good,” he chuckled, “and sometimes the competition would be pretty horrible. I’d challenged people to 1-on-1s too many times, just so I could rep stuff I was working on.”
By early March last year, he was in the best shape of the year. But he was also off campus, an outsider. That crazy-good team still had a crazy-good year, tying Harvard for the regular-season Ivy championship. But the Bulldogs lost a one-game, winner-take-all playoff to the Crimson, 53-51, a contest Sherrod watched via livestream inside a bar in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., while on tour.
“I was so happy that they were there, but I felt kind of bad that I wasn’t able to be there with them,” said the Bulldogs forward, who’d averaged 6.8 points and 4.3 boards per game as a junior in 2013-14. “And yeah, when you’re watching, once you’ve been in the game, it’s way different than playing. That perspective is something that I haven’t had since I was a pre-freshman. That was really weird in itself, being around guys (in the group) that don’t really watch athletic events at all.”
No doubts. No regrets. He returned to campus — and to the program — last fall with one thing on his mind: Unfinished business.
“Taking the year off, I wanted to make sure I was able to contribute right away,” said Sherrod, who heads into the final weekend of the regular season among the Ivy’s Top 10 in rebounding average (eighth) and 2-point field goal conversions (seventh, 54.1%). “I had no plans to sit on the bench when I returned. That was my mindset, was to come back and play significant minutes and come back and contribute, especially given the guys that we lost. So that was my mindset the whole time, so I expected us to be able to compete for an Ivy League championship. I wanted to be able to perform well … I wanted to prove people wrong. Especially those who thought taking a year off would hurt my game.”
It didn’t. The Connecticut native has been a terror in league play, netting 14 points or more on eight different occasions against Ivy rivals and closing January by hitting on 30 consecutive field-goal attempts, a new NCAA record.
“I knew the game was going to go well for me when I (saw) the first basketball go through the net,” he said. “I’ll give my teammates credit. They really put me in a good position to be successful.
“I can remember a bunch of different shots that went in that were pretty tough. So, yeah, it’s just fortunate that (they) went in. It is really a little bit special, the shots that helped me continue the streak. Just have to get into a rhythm and then you’re feeling it.”
Sherrod grasps rhythm better than most, being proficient on the drums, piano and saxophone. He grew up on gospel records — “Mom wouldn’t let us listen to secular music,” he chuckled — and started singing at the church choir at Jesus Saves Ministries at 8.
A true baritone — ever the team player, Sherrod found himself working the higher “tenor II” vocal range with the ’Poofs — he’d auditioned on something of a lark, after friends who’d toured with the group raved about the experience, about the chance to see the globe at a reasonable cost. (Although, Sherrod, ever watchful of NCAA mandates, noted that the ’Poofs found themselves having to “sing for our supper in a lot of cases.”)
Of course, there was also a catch: the Bulldogs’ big man had to sign a contract that essentially decreed that if he was accepted in the ’Poofs, he had to commit for the year, right then and there.
“After the audition was over, I got the call,” he recalled, “and I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m in. How do I explain this to Coach Jones?’”
In the end, Coach got it. Heck, even Ivy student sections have been kinder this winter than Sherrod anticipated.
“Which has been pretty surprising to me,” he said. “The only thing I saw was sign at the Columbia game that said, ‘SHERROD IS TONE DEAF.’ Which is hilarious, I thought that was pretty funny. Otherwise, I haven’t gotten any chants. I think, maybe because I exceeded expectations, I guess you can’t really bash it too much.”
No doubts. No regrets. And if the stars align this weekend, all those detractors could find themselves singing a completely different tune.
Above: Brandon Sherrod is averaging 12.2 points and a team-best 7.0 rebounds per game for Yale this season. (Courtesy Yale Athletics)
Middle: Sherrod performs with Yale's world-famous Whiffenpoofs a capella group. (Courtesy Yale Athletics)