He is a reserve freshman point guard playing behind a dazzling all-America, but Sherman Douglas' contributions to the success of Syracuse's eighth-ranked basketball team hardly can be overlooked.
"He may not always look pretty doing it, but Sherman gets the job done," said the all-America starter, Dwayne (Pearl) Washington, about Douglas, who last year was the best high school player in the Washington area.
In a game against Notre Dame, Douglas, a 6-foot 165-pounder, planted himself under the Syracuse basket, soared for an offensive rebound against three Fighting Irish players who towered over him, and scored.
"Sometimes I surprise myself, but not that often," said Douglas, who led Spingarn High School to a 31-0 record and the No. 1 ranking in the Washington area last season. "I saw all those guys on one side of the basket, so I just slid over to the weak side and the ball just happened to come off the rim to my side, and I just went up to about the rim height and got it."
Douglas says his vertical leap is "nothing special," even for a 6-footer. Neither is his jumper. He penetrated or got out on the break for most of his 26.6 points a game as a Spingarn senior, so he came to Syracuse without a polished outside game.
Still, Douglas, averaging 5.6 points and 2.1 assists in 11.2 minutes a game, is accurate 65 percent of the times he goes up for a shot. And his percentage in Big East Conference play is even higher -- 67.7.
"Sherman's jumper's not pretty, but it goes in," said Syracuse senior swingman Rafael Addison.
"I don't think it's ugly," Douglas said. "It's not a perfect shot, but I've been taking good shots. The main ingredient is that it goes in, but I know I have to keep working on it to make it better, because I know if I'm a starter next year, I won't have as many open shots."
Douglas does not give up many open shots when he is playing defense. His quickness and tenacity have made him a terror in the Syracuse full-court press.
"Sherman's so quick, and he's always had a nose for the ball," said John Wood, who coached him at Spingarn. "He's very uncanny that way. He'll give you that lazy look and then he'll react so quickly."
"Sherman's really made a difference for us in a couple of games this year," said Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim. "He and Dwayne turned the Seton Hall game around with their quickness on the press and on the break."
Syracuse trailed, 49-47, when Douglas and Washington started the press. Six minutes later, the Orange led, 65-52.
"The press worked real good, and we got a lot of easy baskets," said Douglas, who tied his career-high with 15 points that night. "But the most exciting game was Providence, because I got a couple of dunks and the fans got behind me."
Since the team's intrasquad scrimmage in November, the huge Carrier Dome crowds have been chanting "Sher-man, Sher-man," partly for Douglas' flying dunks and also for his defense.
Still, it has not been easy for Douglas to adjust to being a reserve after dominating at the high school level.
"Sherman called me in December and was a little down in the dumps," said Oscar Phillips, Douglas' longtime summer-league coach. "I told him, 'You knew where you stood when you went up there.' But I was also confident even before guard Michael Brown left that Sherman would start to play more because he's their best defensive guard."
Douglas has fallen short against another team's defense only once, but it came at a bad time: on national television and in front of his friends and family in a 73-70 loss to Georgetown at Capital Centre in January.
"I was probably trying to do too good because all my people were there," said Douglas, who turned the ball over twice against the Hoyas pressure.
"Other than Georgetown, Sherman's played very well," said Boeheim. "He's really in an ideal situation because he hasn't had that much pressure on him. No team is going to worry about Sherman Douglas when Dwayne Washington, Rafael Addison, Wendell Alexis and Rony Seikaly are out there. That's not to take away from Sherman, though. He's taken advantage of his opportunities and become an important part of this team."
Syracuse assistant Wayne Morgan said, "A lot of people didn't know much about Sherman when we signed him, but I knew he had no weaknesses. And he's a winner. He has so much confidence in his shot, it's almost like he wills it in sometimes. I think people will someday be saying signing Sherman was a coup for Syracuse, if they're not already."
A C student who plans to major in management, Douglas is not progressing as rapidly as he'd like in the classroom, but assistant coach Barry Copeland said that "no one takes more advantage of our support services, tutors, study tables and the like, than Sherman."
"Sherman's always studying with his door closed," said Douglas' roommate, freshman center-forward Rodney Walker. "Sometimes, he's so quiet, I don't even know he's home."
On the court, though, Douglas makes his presence felt. "He's a catalyst," said junior guard Greg Monroe. "When Sherman goes in, he always makes something happen."
"I think the fans like me because I'm the smallest guy on the team," said Douglas. "It's nice to hear them cheering for me, but I'm glad I'm not like Pearl. I can walk around campus and not get noticed."
That may not last long, however. Washington, who is a year older than his class and who has a son to support, may opt for the NBA draft in June, leaving Douglas to battle incoming freshman Earl Duncan for the starting point guard position.
"I was wondering how I was going to fit in, because I had been a second guard at Spingarn, but as a ballplayer, you always have to think positive," said Douglas.
"If Pearl leaves, I expect to start, but it's really up to me to not let anybody take my position."