Josh Sharkey (above) has gone from a solitary D-I offer to one of the best point guards in D-I basketball. (Photo courtesy Samford Athletics)
Andy Jasner (@AndyJasner)
Like every other high school basketball standout, Josh Sharkey envisioned himself playing at the next level.
The Big East, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Atlantic 10? Pick a conference, any conference.
After all, two of his former teammates, Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens, wound up at Penn State.
Sharkey was still in limbo, waiting and wondering. And waiting and wondering some more.
Following a very successful high school career, which started at Abington Friends and ended at Archbishop Carroll, the scholarship offers were scarce. There was a time when Sharkey was unsure of how basketball would fit into his future.
“I kept putting the work in and tried my best to stay positive,” Sharkey said. “It wasn’t always easy.”
The arduous wait was well worth it when Samford – located in Birmingham, Ala., offered him a scholarship. It was the lone Division I school which came calling.
But it only took one.
“It all worked out and I’m very happy,” Sharkey was saying. “I’m feeling pretty good right now. Things are starting to go our way as a team. We’re playing the right way right now. Things are clicking as we’re going into conference play. I think we’re moving in the right direction. I’m just continuing to put in the work and keep working because this is it.
“I’m a senior. This is my last year. I want to make it count.”
Sharkey’s ascension from his freshman year to his senior year of high school was remarkable. The growth through his time at Samford, a member of the Southern Conference, has been even more fascinating.
It wasn’t that long ago when Sharkey was coming off Carroll’s bench as a sophomore alongside his classmate Ryan Daly, who’s shining at Saint Joseph’s. As a senior, Sharkey was part of Carroll’s team which advanced to the Catholic League semifinals before falling to Roman Catholic.
Upon graduation, Daly started at the University of Delaware. Sharkey wound up heading south to Samford.
Both players are thriving because they put in the work. Daly is hardly shocked by Sharkey’s emergence at Samford.
“It’s been awesome,” Daly said of following Sharkey’s college career. “His freshman year, he didn’t really play as much, I mean he played, he was their seventh man ... he kind of had to wait his turn and my freshman year, I burst onto the scene around Christmas and took off from there, and I was always like ‘your time is coming.’
“Truthfully, I was trying to get him to come to Delaware. But just following his career, his trajectory, he’s always been the best on-ball defender and passer I’ve ever played with, and I’m not shocked at anything he’s doing right now. I expected this from him.”
In three years at Archbishop Carroll, Sharkey scored over 800 points and helped the Patriots into the Catholic League semifinals as a senior. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Results during the season come from hard work in the offseason. With his senior season on the horizon, Sharkey was determined to make it count more than ever.
When most of the Main Line was asleep, Sharkey would go to the gymnasium at Harcum College – or anywhere else that was open – with his second cousin Jameer Nelson. Yes, that Jameer Nelson. They would start their workouts at 6 a.m., putting up thousands of jump shots, working on the nuances of the game, talking about basketball in every way imaginable.
They would also talk about life.
“I definitely think that work paid off,” Sharkey said. “I’m lucky to have Jameer in my life. He’s family. He’s one of the best to ever come out of this city working with me. We did the reps every day, shooting thousands of jumpers, doing everything possible to get better.”
And did he ever get better.
Sharkey was recently added as a candidate for the Lou Henson Player of the Year Award, which is awarded annually to the nation's top Division I mid-major player. The award honors Henson, the former Illinois and New Mexico State coach who won 775 games in 41 seasons.
For the season, entering play Saturday Sharkey ranks third in the nation in assists per game (8.2/game), and he’s tied for first nationally –– with another Philly native, Rhode Island’s Fatts Russell –– in steals per game (3.31). Sharkey is tops in the Southern Conference in scoring (18.7 ppg).
Sharkey currently holds school records for career assists (672) and steals with 256. In addition, Sharkey is 12th all-time in scoring with 1,351 points. Sharkey is shooting 49 percent from the field and 38 percent from beyond the arc, which is a major improvement from his early games in high school.
Impressive all the way around
“Coach (Scott Padgett) puts a lot of trust in me to run the offense and things are flowing,” Sharkey said. “If I have a shot, I’ll take it. If a teammate is open, I’ll pass it. In high school, it similar with Coach (Paul Romanczuk), who utilized me with similar play calls and allowed me to be flexible and run the offense. Ryan (Daly), too.
Watching Sharkey’s development during his time at Samford has been truly fulfilling for Padgett, a former standout at the University of Kentucky and a first round draft pick by the Utah Jazz
“I’ve got a lot of faith in Josh,” Padgett said. “He’s turned himself into a really skilled, really good player. What’s special for Josh is the number of plays we run through him is probably up there with as many as player in the country. He’s making the plays for everybody and running the offense. His 3-point shooting is really improved. If he can get to the point where he’s a 40 percent 3-point shooter, the more dangerous he becomes as far as beating guys off the dribble.
As a senior at Samford, Sharkey is the SoCon leader in scoring, assists, steals, and minutes. (Photo courtesy Samford Athletics)
Samford is currently 8-11 overall and 2-3 in the conference while playing a difficult non-con schedule which includes the likes of Georgetown and Alabama. Having the opportunity to compete at the Division I level might not have been possible without all the inspirational coaches and teammates along the way.
Especially for players such as Daly and Sharkey, who certainly were under-the-radar. This special relationship helped to shape both young men into the ultra-talented student-athletes that they are today.
“I think that’s true, we always had a chip on our shoulder,” Daly said. “I realized it, I guess our senior year, so Josh had told people, he was going to transfer, going into senior year [at Carroll]. I think he’d even said it to the public, but he was looking at schools...I called him and was like ‘yo, you’ve got to get out of your emotional state, we’re good enough, we can do something pretty good.’ I think that he had known that I was I was due for a big rise and I think that’s part of the reason he came back was because of his relationship with me.
“I told him ‘listen, I’ll be ready, I know you want to win and I do too, we’ll do this together.’”
Where Sharkey is heading following his tenure at Samford is unclear. At this point, he’s simply looking to finish his senior season in the strongest way possible.
Late at night, when he starts having deep thoughts, Sharkey reminds himself about why he sacrificed so much. It was to see the results he’s having now.
“There are times that I sit back and think about my time at Carroll whether I’m on social media with Ryan, and I’ll reflect about how far I’ve come,” Sharkey said. “I have the confidence which is due a lot to my coaches and Jameer, and I just want to keep moving to the next level of my game. We just started the conference season and there’s a lot of basketball to be played. Coming into the conference tournament, I want to be playing my best basketball.”