Tuesday’s game is the final time seniors Mustapha Farrakhan and Will Sherrill will put on a Virginia jersey and take the floor at John Paul Jones Arena. Although they have come from different backgrounds, their time as Cavaliers has many similarities. Both have overcome limited playing time earlier in their careers to become key players and veteran leaders on this year’s young Virginia squad.
Farrakhan, the 6-4 guard from suburban Chicago, and Sherrill, the 6-9 forward from Manhattan, came to Charlottesville as part of a five-player freshman class. Two of those classmates, Sammy Zeglinski and Mike Scott suffered season-ending injuries during their careers and will come back next season for a fifth year. The other, Jeff Jones, transferred after last season. But for the two that remain in the class, the shared experiences of the past four seasons will always unite them.
“We were talking a few days ago that it seems like just yesterday that we were coming here,” said Sherrill. “We have been here a while and been through a lot together. It will be just the two of us there on senior night. We started with five, but Jeff transferred and Mike and Sammy got hurt. Those experiences we have shared are a bond that Mu and I will always have.”
For Farrakhan, his first two seasons saw limited action off the bench. But with the arrival of new head coach Tony Bennett in 2009-10, he took full advantage of a fresh start. He became a regular in the rotation and averaged 6.5 points per game as a junior. This season, he has stepped up to be the team’s leading scorer, totaling more points as a senior than in his first three years combined.
“It has been tough,” said Farrakhan of his collegiate career. “I have come a long way, fighting through the adversity, to get to this point. I wanted to show people that if you stay positive and keep working hard, it will pay off. You can’t worry about yourself, you just have to serve your role on the team as best you can.”
Sherrill’s career at Virginia has come even farther. He came to UVa as a walk-on and played just 31 minutes in his first two seasons, totaling only eight points. Just as with Farrakhan, Bennett’s arrival brought a clean slate. He wasn’t seen as a walk-on, but as a player who could serve a role in the new coach’s system. He averaged 3.0 points per game as a junior, earned a scholarship for his senior season, and became a starter at the beginning of the year. But his final year has been hampered by a broken fibula suffered at Minnesota in November that cost him eight games and slowed him in the ones he has played since he came back.
“There have been some ups and downs,” said Sherrill. “This season started well, then I got hurt. Things happen in life and you have to battle back. That is what reveals what type of person you are, what kind of character you have. There were a lot of times this season when I could have decided not to play through the pain or not work hard and just pack it in. But that isn’t the type of person I am.”
Although their time as Cavaliers is coming to an end, both Farrakhan and Sherrill still want to accomplish some goals before they graduate.
“We just want to have some postseason play,” said Farrakhan. “It would be great to finish over .500. We want to finish on a high note and I feel like we are moving in that direction.”