Yogi Ferrell was only a few weeks into his college career at Indiana. Already, the then-freshman point guard was tired of Will Sheehey.
The constant jabbering on the court. The hard bumps on defense. The brazen attitude. It was annoying, frustrating, and the final straw came after the 6-footer called a foul in open gym that summer.
Sheehey, a 6-7 forward, scoffed at the call and chucked the ball at him. Size difference or not, Ferrell had had enough. He rushed up to Sheehey, got in his face and the two started to square up.
No punches were thrown, but like many opponents before and after, Ferrell had boiled over.
He was a five-star player and the headliner of The Movement, the recruiting class that would bring IU back to the pinnacle of college hoops.
Who the hell was this guy?
No easy answer
One year later, everyone is trying to figure out Sheehey.
He is the Hoosiers’ lone four-year senior, the reigning Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year who has a much bigger role to play this season.
He infuriates opponents. He confounds reporters.
That’s what makes the Stuart, Fla., native so interesting: even he can’t fully explain himself.
Everything that you do is being scrutinized, and it’s tough, he says. It seems like it just compounded for me since; I don’t really remember. Maybe it was somewhere sophomore year. It just kept compounding, and compounding, and compounding, until I got this persona.
They think that I’m some kind of hard ass.
He is – on the court. There’s no disputing that, despite what Sheehey says. He’s had both his front teeth knocked out, inspired an Iowa crowd to chant Sheehey sucks and drawn the ire of plenty of others because of his attitude between the lines.
Away from the game, he’s the kid who was accepted into three Ivy League schools and has plenty of aspirations: law school, entrepreneurship, becoming a college basketball coach. It’s hard to reconcile that with the wild-eyed, chest-pounding player who wreaked havoc off the bench in the Big Ten last season.
Adam Ross, who coached Sheehey during his final year of high school at Sagemont, understands why so many are seeking answers about his former student. But stripping away that veil is difficult, especially when Sheehey sees no need to do so.
He’s a very private individual, Ross says. I think that in his mind, trying to explain why he is the way he is is kind of a useless exercise. He just is.
Sheehey, Ross says, is a contradiction: Hyde on the court, Jekyll off it.
Playing the villain
Freshman Stan Robinson got sick of the cockiness pretty quickly, too.
When Sheehey and Ferrell returned from the World University Games in July in Kazan, Russia, the senior made his presence known immediately. Two of the six freshmen on this year’s squad showed up unprepared for a conditioning workout.
Sheehey told them to get the hell off the court.
We knew that there wasn’t no games, Robinson says. This is his last shot, so he definitely put an understanding in everybody’s mind that he’s not playing around, that he’s trying to win and he’s not going to put up with any lack of hustle.
It doesn’t matter if the whistle blows or not.
Sheehey has a penchant for fighting for loose balls even after a tie-up is called in practice, Ferrell says. That led to another near-skirmish this season between the senior and Robinson, who like everyone else just didn’t get it.
Will is kind of like the bad cop, I’m kind of the good cop, Ferrell says with a smile. He’s used to it by now. That definitely helped, though. (Robinson) definitely worked harder next time.
Sheehey claims it’s an act he took up out of necessity.
He was a second-team all-state selection in Florida as a senior. No one thought he could make it at the Division I level, let alone a program like IU. And even before that, he was a nobody sitting at the end of the bench during AAU basketball with the Florida Rams.
He had to find a way to get on the court. He had to make his presence known.
So out came Mr. Hyde.
I don’t do anything out of disrespect to anybody, he says. All I want to do is win basketball games because that makes everything better. What comes with it comes with it. I think I’m a little bit misunderstood, but that’s just the way it is. I’m OK with it.
His opponents aren’t, and his teammates weren’t at first. That’s what gives Sheehey his power, Ross says. He dominates the game mentally and physically.
If the game were 80 minutes long, Will could bring it for 80 minutes like that, says Ross, who still talks to Sheehey almost daily. He doesn’t mind taking on the villain role because he feels like he’s doing his team a huge service, which is pulling a lot of attention towards him and a lot of focus from the other team and other coaching staffs to him. That opens up and frees other guys to be successful.
Will Sheehey is a coach’s dream.
IU coach Tom Crean agrees. Sheehey, who averaged 9.5 points and 3.5 rebounds as a junior, is as good at understanding the game as he is riling up the opposition.
During his time with Team USA this summer, Sheehey learned some new spacing concepts and plays that he thought the Hoosiers could use. He went to Crean with them when he got back from Russia.
He’s put in three baseline out of bounds plays himself this year that he ran this summer, says Crean, who was the first to suggest Sheehey would some day be a great college coach. He just gets it.
Sheehey wants his teammates to understand, too, whether he’s being brash or nurturing. Ferrell says it isn’t uncommon for the senior to stop practice, and Crean has given him the go-ahead.
He’s such a player-coach, the sophomore says. I feel like that’s a good thing, especially for these young guys that don’t know the system well.
There are six of them, as well as sophomores Jeremy Hollowell and Hanner Mosquera-Perea, who didn’t see the court much as freshmen. Tutoring the young players helps give Sheehey a greater understanding of the game, and it’s certainly helped the underclassmen.
Once you accept Sheehey for what he is, Hollowell says, you come to love him.
I feel like he is looked at a little differently from the media, the sophomore forward says. He’s just a real cool guy to be around and a funny guy, but I feel like people do kind of look at him a little differently than what he is.
Being the bad guy
Ferrell, his former nemesis, knows IU needs Sheehey to be the bad guy more than ever this season.
I feel like teams hate him, and that’s good, he says. They’re definitely going to hate him even more now.
Not that Sheehey cares. The consequences of his actions never faze him, and he refuses to back off his aggressive nature.
He doesn’t care what people think of his actions. All that matters is winning and being a better player.
He’s going to do whatever it takes to get everything out of you, and he does it for the best of us and for the best of the team, Mosquera-Perea says. I’ve looked at him in a leader role since last year. He was always there helping no matter who it is.
That’s Sheehey, Ross says: tough but nurturing, hard-headed but humble, volatile but cerebral.
Jekyll and Hyde, with ambitions as big as his supposed ego.
I’m done doubting Will Sheehey, Ross says. No one gave him a shot. He committed to Indiana, and people scoffed – I mean, just laughed and said that’s absurd. Will Sheehey is not a Big Ten basketball player. That is so far over his head. He’ll be back home in a year.
He proved all those people wrong.
Sheehey finds an adversary in everything he does. That competitive drive is one of the few things that doesn’t go away when he comes off the floor.
He will find someone who doesn’t know him, doesn’t respect him, and make it so.
Now, he’s got a bunch of people that don’t think maybe that he can be the guy, or one of the guys, at Indiana, Ross says. Can’t have a successful season, can’t play professional basketball – all that stuff.
History has taught me not to doubt anything Will Sheehey sets his mind to.
That much is understood.