I won’t sit here and say that in the annals of Kentucky Wildcats basketball, Tyler Herro is every bit the player Jeff Sheppard was. This does not mean Herro is a peripheral player on this 2019 Kentucky team; he is a centerpiece player.
The Wildcats have depended on him for most of the season to make big shots. Herro is a lockdown free throw shooter and a knockdown 3-point artist. He does things other players on this roster aren’t able to do nearly as well. Does that make him a “role player”? Maybe, but the term seems to diminish his value and centrality on the 2019 Wildcats.
Whatever label you assign to Herro, though, he isn’t at Jeff Sheppard’s level. The star from the 1998 national championship team at Kentucky was able to create his own shot off the dribble, a fundamental difference between him and Herro. In a number of important ways, Sheppard had a higher ceiling as a player and could perform a wider assortment of tasks. I am still not comfortable calling Herro a “role player” as opposed to a “centerpiece player,” but I can say that Sheppard could — and did — do more things on a basketball court to propel Kentucky deep into March.
However, for all the ways in which Sheppard and Herro are different, one similarity bursts through whenever I see Herro play: The young man LOVES to shoot the rock when everything matters. My goodness.
To be clear, plenty of players WANT the ball and NEED the ball in the final minute of a game, when the outcome of a Sweet 16 contest is riding on their actions and their responses to pressure. You might think — quite reasonably, I might add — that nothing I have said or presented thus far makes Herro (or Sheppard) all that unique.
I get that.
What distinguishes Herro from most college basketball players? His attitude in late-game situations goes beyond WANT or NEED: He LOVES the pressure. He kisses it and caresses it and takes it home with him and cooks a five-course dinner for it. He plays a violin concerto for it and dims the lights for it. He sets out roses for it and holds hands with it.
He ENJOYS the pressure.
Herro grinned like a little kid after making the 3-pointer which put Kentucky ahead of Houston to stay in Friday’s Midwest Regional semifinal in Kansas City. He wasn’t surprised that he hit the shot or merely pleased he knocked down that triple. He grinned, as though declaring, “HA! YOU LEFT ME OPEN! YOU KNOW THIS IS WHAT I DO, HOUSTON! I DID IT AGAIN!”
Herro has been making clutch three after clutch three after clutch three this season for a team which generally doesn’t shoot threes all that well. Herro — who has the perfect name for a man with late-game acumen — is as comfortable in the spotlight as Sheppard was. In this one aspect of March Madness and the pressure cooker of the NCAA Tournament, I see two kindred spirits, 21 years apart.
Tyler is the Herro Kentucky — a team without a devastatingly consistent offense — has needed to get over the hump in so many pressure situations.
Don’t think you have seen or heard the last Herro-ic shot for Big Blue in this NCAA Tournament, now poised to move to Minneapolis in early April.
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