Baranek: Hillcrest’s Tanzania Sherrill rebounding into form
By Tony Baranek email@example.com January 20, 2014 8:16PM
Hillcrest's Tanzania Sherrill moves to the inside against Wheaton North. | Patrick Gleason/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 22, 2014 6:24AM
The spring is back in her step.
The pain-free smile is back on her face.
It’s Christmas again for Hillcrest junior Tanzania Sherrill, although truth be told, the real thing probably didn’t feel like Christmas.
The holiday season was nothing short of a struggle for the 5-foot-8 guard/forward, who saw what was supposed to be the beginning of her term as the next Hillcrest “it” girl get sidetracked by a lower back strain.
A month later, after her best game of the season in Saturday’s 99-92 victory over Wheaton North, the Sherrill era is back on track.
“I’m feeling better, a lot better. It feels great to come back,” she said with a smile after producing 26 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals.
When Hillcrest coach John Maniatis sent out his outlook before the season, Sherrill’s name was at the top of the players to watch list.
That wasn’t surprising. Since Sherrill’s freshman season Maniatis has been projecting her as a Hawk who’d stand among past leaders Nadia Bibbs, Uniquah Hampton, Briana Dunlap and Shannise Heady.
It was a projection Sherrill was eager to fulfill.
A Wisconsin native, she started playing basketball in fourth grade. Before seventh grade, her family moved to the Hillcrest district, where she played at Prairie Hills Junior High.
“I wasn’t really good, though, until eighth grade,” she said. “From then I got better and better.”
As a sophomore, Sherrill was the second-highest scorer (12 ppg) on the team behind Dana Gettis.
This season, it was time for more. Sherrill had 19 points against Bloom, 14 against Joliet Catholic, 19 against Rich South and 18 vs. Thornton.
On Dec. 10, Sherrill was
weightlifting in gym class when something went awry.
“I maxed out and I didn’t have on a belt,” she said. “I didn’t feel anything at first, but that night my back started hurting.”
The next morning she reported her condition to Hillcrest trainer Robert Tatka, who diagnosed it as a lower back strain.
“I couldn’t run,” she said. “And when I would walk it would be hard because it was like a strain, something pulling.”
Sherrill decided to play through it. She spent much of practices getting extensive back treatments from Tatka, but always was ready to suit up for the games.
She found herself on a roller-coaster ride of numbers and emotions. On good days she scored 21 points against Sandburg and 18 against Marist, but on bad days had just four against Reavis, seven against Bolingbrook, none against Oak Lawn.
Maniatis never considered any of them bad days.
“As an athlete and as a competitor, she did everything possible she could to help us win,” he said. “There is more to the game of basketball than just scoring. She was a stabilizing force on the floor, and as far as heart and effort, she did a tremendous job.
“We monitored her minutes, and there was a bit of a slide (in points) because of the back issues, but she’s averaging more assists than she did last year.”
That Sherrill didn’t miss a game she credits to Tatka, who two years earlier helped bring back Karlisa Harris from a torn ACL to have a successful senior season.
“He was real good with helping me,” Sherrill said. “We iced during practice. Then he’d put the heating pad on me, and then we’d go to the front gym and dribble and shoot and see how my back would react.”
Sherrill looked her old self Friday in a 19-point effort against Eisenhower. Saturday, she excelled in every aspect of the game, driving to the basket, making crisp passes, nailing a three-pointer and muscling up at the basket to pull down rebounds.
Another job well done.