MOUNT VERNON — Mount Vernon High School senior Cuy Sheffield is not your prototypical point guard. At 5-foot-10, he is smaller than many other players on the court. He doesn’t shoot many 3-pointers — his total is zero attempted on the season — and he never really considered himself a scoring threat, until this year that is.
Sheffield has come out of the gate firing away, and the result was a string of double-digit performances. For the season, he is shooting 57 percent (37-of-65) from the field and averaging 13.7 points a game.
“I felt like last year, one of our problems was we didn’t have many scoring options,” Sheffield said. “Sometimes defenses could just focus on Ben (Severns) and that made it tough for him, so I’ve been trying to attack the basket more. I worked a lot on my shot over the summer, especially the 15-footers. I’m trying to get to the basket. I worked a lot in the weight room to get a lot stronger so I could finish. I’m just trying to use what I worked on in the summer to help my team and provide another scoring mentality.”
The 21 and 20 points he scored in the first two games helped the team be competitive while everyone settled into their roles. Sheffield has been using his speed to attack the basket, slashing his way through the defense.
“I just try to take what the defense gives me,” said Sheffield. “Usually when you attack the basket, something good happens so I figured if I at least go at the basket, I will get fouled or create a shot. That is better than just standing outside and shooting 3s, which are low-percentage shots. I feel like I can help my team more by getting to the basket than just putting up a 3.
“I really didn’t know what to expect,” continued Sheffield about his start. “It could have just been those few teams, and they didn’t have much help defense. Whenever a team doesn’t have much help defense, I find it is pretty easy to get to the basket. I was just trying to do whatever the team needs. ... If other guys are scoring, then I don’t need to, and I can get the ball moving, get assists and get other people involved. I’m fine with that.”
The consummate team player, Sheffield has been an all-around player this season. He leads the team in assists (3.2 per game) and is averaging 3.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game. He also has limited his turnovers — 14 through seven games — which have opened up more opportunities.
“(The most improved area of my game) is definitely my ability to shoot midrange,” said Sheffield. “Last year, it was really frustrating because guys knew all I tried to do is get layups. Now, it adds another dimension to my game. Then, all the work in the weight room has helped me finish a lot better. I’m getting more and-one opportunities, and those are as good as a 3.”
The fact that he has been distributing the ball so well, especially in the post, has the Jackets much more balanced than they have been for a while.
“The post guys have done a good job. They haven’t been forcing much, and they’ve been finishing pretty well,” said Sheffield. “When they are finishing, they are kicking it back out. I will always get it into them because it makes things happen. It gets everybody involved and makes us tough to guard.”
The Jackets have been tough to guard throughout their 6-2 start. They’ve crushed some competition, while playing even with others. The two losses have also taught them a few things.
“We had a tough loss in our second game, but it was good for us,” said Sheffield. “It made us learn from our mistakes, and we got a good win streak going. We had the disappointing loss at (Dublin) Scioto, but that was another good learning experience for us. They were a really good team. Now, we are focused on trying to win the conference.”
The loss to Dublin Scioto was especially an eye-opener for Sheffield. He was held scoreless for the game, something he hadn’t experienced so far this year.
“The biggest thing I learned from that game was that it is more mental than anything,” Sheffield said. “I let them get into my head early on and I psyched myself out to where I didn’t feel I was playing my normal game. My mentality was different. They took that attack mentality away, so I learned that even if I’m stopped, I can’t let myself lose that mentality. I have to keep going back at them and force them to play defense.
“It showed me what I need to work on, having bigger defenders on me. I need to get better mentally as well as physically.”
One of the keys to Mount Vernon’s start has been its leadership. The team has only three seniors, but it plays beyond its years.
“Leadership has been really important,” Sheffield said. “Even though we are young, we have a good amount of experience because of our tournament run. A lot of our guys played at the end of the season (last year), and we returned four starters. We know what to expect, and it really shows in close games. ... We know how to pull out close games at the end, and that is because of our leadership and experience. It gives guys confidence.”
Coach Kurt Kaufman believes is really comes down to a few players taking the lead, with one of those being Sheffield.
“It is kind of funny. Since I’ve been here, we always seem to have a leader emerge,” said Kaufman. “The first year, (Matt) Parks was that vocal leader. The next year, Chris Glibert and Nate Short filled that role. Now, Cuy has emerged. All of that work he put in during the summer has led him to take ownership of what’s going on here. This is his last chance to play Mount Vernon basketball. ... He plays the game of basketball well, and he plays it right. That makes the other guys play hard too.
“He is certainly a player that is going to make other players better. He doesn’t care if he scores. He is just as happy to see other people succeed. He is a tough kid; he does the little things.”
Another reason for the team’s early success has been its chemistry.
“Our team chemistry is much improved,” Sheffield said. “We have a lot of guys that have the talent to go one-on-one, but we have good team chemistry. We have a good combination of being able to play together and move the ball around. I feel like we have a lot of confidence too. We have a different mentality — we know we can beat people.”
No matter what happens in the final 12 regular season games this seasons, Sheffield is looking forward. A very good student, Sheffield is looking at his options as far as college is concerned. He may also be looking at those options which would include a basketball court.
“I haven’t really decided (what the future holds). A lot of it depends on where I get into school, whether I am going to go for academics or for basketball,” said Sheffield. “With how this season has gone, it has given me hope. It is good to see what hard work can do. This summer, I worked hard and it is paying off. That makes me want to try to take it to the next level. I’m looking at some DIII colleges out in California and St. Louis.”