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Colorado guard Jaylyn Sherrod and the No. 3 Buffaloes have come a long way

Sherrod is key to program that has gone from Pac-12 bottom feeder to one of the nation’s best

BOULDER, Colo. – Jaylyn Sherrod always begins with the foundation.

In her down time, when she’s not making plays on the court for No. 3 Colorado, Sherrod loves assembling Legos. She enjoys the meticulous process of building block by block until the pieces form a triumphant structure.

The hobby first began as a way for Sherrod, a graduate point guard for Colorado, to ease her mind amid the grind of a season. It quickly became something the self-described introvert found comfort in. From her Boulder apartment, Sherrod has erected world wonders like the Taj Mahal. In October 2023, she assembled the Sanderson house from the classic Halloween movie Hocus Pocus.

“It gives me the opportunity to be in my own space and not think about who I am to everybody else,” Sherrod said. “Just personal time.”

It’s a fitting hobby for Sherrod, who has been a foundational building block of a Colorado program that has transformed itself over the last five years from a Pac-12 bottom feeder into one of the nation’s best.

Early in the 2023-24 season, in which Colorado had begun the year with an impressive 14-point upset of reigning national champion No. 1 LSU, Sherrod sent a text to her head coach, JR Payne. It was a moment of gratitude for the journey the two had taken together and the goals they’ve accomplished.

“We’ve worked really hard for this. Congratulations,” Sherrod wrote.

“We are who you are,” Payne replied.

Colorado guard Jaylyn Sherrod (left) talks with coach JR Payne (right) before the first half against Boston University at the CU Events Center in Boulder, Colorado, on Nov. 28, 2023.

AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post

Payne wasn’t a fan of recruiting small guards to come play at Colorado.

There was one condition that could change her mind – they had to embody the play of Shandrika Lee, an assistant coach on the Buffaloes staff from 2016 to 2022. Lee, who starred at Pepperdine from 2000-04, was a wiry, tough and speedy guard with a high competitive spirit. When Lee first saw Sherrod play, she saw herself in the three-star prospect from Birmingham, Alabama.

“I know you don’t like small guards, but I’m telling you you’re going to love this kid,” Lee would tell Payne.

“We went and watched her and all just loved her immediately,” Payne said.

Although Sherrod had the attention of other Division I programs, Colorado was the only Power 5 school that offered her a scholarship. She believes Payne and her staff took a chance recruiting her to Boulder.

But Payne doesn’t see it that way.

“I see it as we found the right guard to help us establish our program,” Payne said. “Someone who didn’t care about getting a ton of shots or getting the accolades. She was just going to work.”

In Sherrod, Payne saw the future of her program – the ultimate competitor who was fearless on the court and was ready to prove doubters wrong. Payne believed that Sherrod could help establish a winning culture for a team that had won just two games in Pac-12 play the previous season.

“The identity of our program, we could see that in Jaylyn,” Payne said. “That’s what we wanted to be.

“From where we were at the time, that’s what we needed. We weren’t going to beat Stanford at the time. We needed someone that was going to help us establish the foundation that would allow us to eventually beat those teams.”

Colorado guard Jaylyn Sherrod drives to the basket against Stanford defenders in the second half on Jan, 14 in Boulder, Colorado.

Cliff Grassmick/AP Photo

The trajectory of Colorado’s rise can be seen through its clashes with the Cardinal. During Sherrod’s freshman season, an unranked Colorado took No. 6 Stanford to overtime on Jan. 24 2020, but ultimately lost. In 2021, the unranked Buffaloes hosted the Cardinal, who arrived in Boulder as the No. 1 team in the country. In the game’s final moments, the Buffaloes trailed by just two points. The game went to overtime after Sherrod manufactured a steal and score with 20 seconds to play.

As the overtime buzzer sounded with Colorado upsetting the conference goliath, Sherrod bent over with a sense of disbelief as her teammates erupted around her with joy. It was the program’s first win against a No. 1 ranked team.

This season, the Cardinal once again took the floor at the CU Events Center, but for the first time, No. 8 Stanford wasn’t considered the favorite. Colorado entered the game as the No. 5 team in the country. Colorado won the game behind a game-high 16 points from Sherrod.

After icing the game with a breakaway layup, Sherrod gestured “night night” to the Colorado bench and crowd. The moment summed up the journey for Sherrod and Colorado and how far the program had come since her freshman season.

“I think it’s just a testament to all the work that we put in,” said Sherrod, who is averaging 14.2 points, 2.7 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.3 steals for Colorado this season. “It really does mean a lot to see where the program was to where it is now.”

As a team, Colorado (16-2, 6-1 in Pac-12) is off to its best start since the 1992-93 season and currently sits tied with Stanford atop the Pac-12, which currently has six teams in the AP Top 25. Colorado’s three wins against top-10 teams this season (No. 1 LSU, No. 8 Stanford and No. 6 USC) mark the most in program history. On Jan. 19, Colorado broke its own home attendance record (11,338) when the team played No. 5 UCLA. The Buffaloes are aiming to win their first Pac-12 championship (regular season or tournament) in program history.

“I think we still have a lot to prove to ourselves,” Sherrod said.

Colorado guard Jaylyn Sherrod reacts after a foul against LSU during the Naismith Hall of Fame Series at T-Mobile Arena on Nov. 6, 2023, in Las Vegas.

Michael Hickey/Getty Images

When Sherrod was in high school, she noticed a gap between herself and the players considered to be the best prospects in the country. That was in part due to a perceived difference in ability, but also a result of her stature (5-feet-7).

“I realized I wasn’t going to be the best of the best,” Sherrod said.

If Sherrod was going to accomplish her goals in basketball, she learned that she was going to have to separate herself through another aspect of the game. She began adopting a mantra, will over skill. It’s been a defining trait of Sherrod, and has been an inseparable part of her identity at Colorado.

“My mentality has always been to outwork people and know that I’m not going to beat you based on talent, I’m going to beat you because I’m going to outwork you and I’m going to be able to stand in the fire longer than you,” Sherrod said.

When Sherrod takes the floor for Colorado, she has to be the most energetic and passionate player on the court no matter what. And as Sherrod has elevated her skill set and developed as a player, it’s allowed her to quite literally will the Buffaloes to victory on several occasions.

For Sherrod, her favorite example came against Duke in their second-round NCAA tournament game in 2023. She scored the team’s final four points to force overtime against the Blue Devils on the road. The Buffaloes won the game and eventually made their first appearance in the Sweet 16 in 20 years.

For Payne, it was Sherrod’s 27-point performance against Washington State on Feb. 10, 2023, when Sherrod strung together 15 points in the fourth quarter to push Colorado to a 3-point victory at home.

“They were doing absolutely everything they could to stop her. Different people, different defenses,” Payne said. “She just willed herself to score, willed herself to make plays – winning plays.”

This season alone, there have been multiple standout performances from Sherrod. A career-high 34 points in Colorado’s home win over then-No. 12 Utah on Dec. 30, 2023. She had 19 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals against No. 1 LSU on Nov. 6, 2023.

“She will just will her way into playing well or giving us a run,” said senior guard Frida Formann.

Colorado Buffaloes guard Jaylyn Sherrod (right) celebrates as LSU Tigers forward Angel Reese (left) looks on during the Hall of Fame Series game on Nov. 6, 2023, at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There was a period when Sherrod had to overcome doubt about her playing future. She remembers gathering with a close group who she trained with at home in Birmingham and telling them frankly, “I’m tired.” At the time, Sherrod was recovering from hip surgery that had cut her sophomore season at Colorado short. Known for her speed and shiftiness on the court, Sherrod feared she would never regain that explosiveness if and when she returned.

Sherrod’s peers uplifted the budding guard, talking to her for hours and pushing her to continue on – not just for herself, but for the community she represents. Sherrod had always viewed her path as not solely being her own, but it was from this conversation that she gained a new perspective.

Outside of former Mississippi State guard Morgan William, whose game-winning shot over UConn in the 2017 NCAA tournament remains as a legendary moment in the city, Sherrod said Birmingham hasn’t had a lot of talk about women’s basketball since. That’s changed with Sherrod. Being a role model for her community has been a crucial part of what has pushed Sherrod to continue on when that doubt creeps in.

“I love [basketball] but sometimes there’s times where love ain’t enough. There’s a lot of hard and dark days, to be completely honest. I think being able to go back home and see those kids that’s, like, I’m 5-foot-4 and I’m like, yeah, you can still do it,” Sherrod said. She was recently named among the final 10 candidates for the 2024 Nancy Lieberman Award, given to the best point guard in the country.

“Being able to be a role model and give back to the community is just something I didn’t have when I was growing up. It gives me that grounding and sense of foundation that I’ve still got a job to do – not just for me, I’m doing it for other people, too.”

“I think the acceptance of who I’ve become here has been the hardest part of my journey. I’m very proud of the growth. I couldn’t say that I saw this five years ago but I’m proud of how it’s worked out and come together.”

— Jaylyn Sherrod

When Sherrod began her career at Colorado, she largely kept to herself. She was the kid who would sit in back of the room with her earbuds in and her head down. Sherrod rarely spoke to others, content with checking in, doing her job and checking out. She had always found comfort in being alone and had no plans to change.

It was a collective effort from the coaching staff to make clear to Sherrod that that wasn’t going to cut it.

“You really can’t just lead by example,” Payne would relay to Sherrod. “You’ll never get the most out of the group if you are just the quiet, hardworking kid. You have to find a way to connect and bring people along.”

It’s a reality that Sherrod rejected for years. She had been pushed out of her comfort zone and said she had to “sink or swim.” By her senior season at Colorado, she chose to swim.

“Being able to say this is what’s best for the team and the team needs me in these spaces, I have to put my ego and pride aside even though it’s not comfortable,” Sherrod said.

Sherrod began connecting with her teammates, made plans to spend time with them off the court, and took incoming freshmen under her wing. On the court, her presence became more vocal. Sherrod had bought in to the role.

“I think the acceptance of who I’ve become here has been the hardest part of my journey,” Sherrod said. “I’m very proud of the growth. I couldn’t say that I saw this five years ago but I’m proud of how it’s worked out and come together.”

Colorado guard Jaylyn Sherrod leads her team against Boston University during the first half at the CU Events Center on Nov. 28, 2023, in Boulder, Colorado.

AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post

Sherrod will leave the program as one of the best in school history. She’s one of four Colorado players to total 1,000-plus career points and 500-plus assists. She recently eclipsed 1,300 career points against USC on Sunday, and ranks third in assists and sixth in steals in program history.

When she came to Colorado, Sherrod didn’t prioritize playing in the WNBA. Not to say it wasn’t a dream or goal, but because she didn’t think it would be an option. Through her play, it’s now become one. She’ll leave Boulder with three degrees, and has an interest in a career in criminal investigation, which she would pursue after a potential pro career or or a career in coaching.

When asked what she wants for her star point guard as she closes out her Colorado tenure, Payne said she wants Sherrod to remain who she is while continuing to be open to anything that comes her way.

“The window is closing where she is going to have all of these experiences and I think she is really open, genuinely trying to listen, evolve and put out what she is receiving,” Payne said.

As Payne gathered her things and got up from the interview table, she added one more thing she’d like for Sherrod.

“And win a natty.”

Sean Hurd is a writer for Andscape who primarily covers women’s basketball. His athletic peak came at the age of 10 when he was named camper of the week at a Josh Childress basketball camp.