ATHENS, Ga. – Sherrard Brantley says his most prized possession is a Class AA state championship ring, earned fewer than two years ago.
Brantley’s Dublin (Ga.) High School team went 31-1 and won its final 23 games in 2009. He averaged 15.1 points per game for the Irish, but from a recruiting standpoint, the 6-foot-2 Brantley tended to get lost in the shuffle.
“I had a real good team,” Brantley said, “so I didn’t have to put a whole lot of attempts up.”
Bethune-Cookman came calling at the time. So did Coastal Carolina. But with academics a concern (he didn’t qualify until the summer after his senior year), Brantley wound up at Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, Fla.
It’s not ideal to take the junior-college route, but in Brantley’s case, one year of JUCO basketball proved a blessing disguise.
“It still kind of surprises me even now when I think about it,” he said.
Brantley arrived in Florida as basically an unknown prospect and exited a year later with offers from a handful of major-college programs.
He actually averaged fewer points, posting 13.7 per game for a team that won 30 games to claim its conference and reach the quarterfinals of the national finals. But he shot 263 times from 3-point range during the season. Of those attempts, 113 percent went in (43 percent), helping Brantley be named Freshman of the Year in his school’s conference.
“I was just thinking of getting more exposure, trying to get my name out a little more,” Brantley said. “Going from (high school) to a high-major junior college, the game is just a little different. I shot a lot more from the 3-point line in junior college.”
Schools began noticing, especially ones that needed more perimeter shooters.
UGA assistant Philip Pearson scouted Brantley, and the Bulldogs began recruiting him in January of that season.
“He can shoot the ball – period,” UGA coach Mark Fox said. “We needed a guy who could shoot the basketball, and Sherrard can do that, and he can do that very well.”
Brantley picked in-state Georgia over LSU and knew he would be exiting junior college after only one season, since he had qualified academically.
“Playing close to home was a reason,” Brantley said, “and Coach Fox painted a good picture for me, not just things on the court, but off the court after I graduate.”
Since his arrival, Brantley has played in 22 of Georgia’s 23 games as a sophomore this season. At nearly 14 minutes per game, he is seventh on the Bulldogs in playing time, and his role has long been defined.
On a team generally lacking punch from 3-point range, Brantley is the specialist. Of his 79 shot attempts this season, 63 have been from 3-point range. He has made 21 (33.3 percent). Only Dustin Ware (37) and Gerald Robinson (23) have made more 3-pointers for UGA this season, and each plays more than 30 minutes per game.
Fox says Brantley has the green-light to shoot whenever it suits him.
“He’s a great shooter,” Fox said. “And he’s much more comfortable in all phases of the game. He’s ten times a better defender than he was two months ago. He’s a better ball handler, and he’s really played pretty well. I think he’s comfortable in his role right now.”
“He’s helping us out a lot this year,” UGA forward Travis Leslie said. “When people come in and knock down big 3s, it brings a lot of energy and helps us out a lot.”