FORTVILLE — Travis Daugherty remembers a young Erick Shepherd. Although two inches shorter and approximately 15 pounds lighter than he is now, Mt. Vernon’s new head coach noticed just how different the freshman was from players in his grade. For a rookie at the varsity level, Shepherd’s age didn’t match his game.
Daugherty, who began his tenure with the Marauders during the 6-foot-6 senior forward’s first year of high school, described Shepherd’s skill on the basketball court then as “mature.” Four year later and the consistent, sometimes even dominant big man has barely changed, even physically.
Averaging over 10 points per game in each of his four seasons at the school, Shepherd has been a constant force for the Marauders, who have won five straight games this season to move to 7-4 overall and 3-1 in the Hoosier Heritage Conference.
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“He has always been a very smart player, even when he was very young he has always played the game the right way,” Daugherty said. “It is rare that you have players play on your varsity team for four years. But it’s even more rare to me to have a player who has had such a steady growth and improvement.
“Typically, there is one off season where everything changes. That’s not really been the case for him. You’re always going to get something positive from him.”
As a freshman, the high-energy big man provided steady numbers on a team that finished 9-14. He averaged 10.5 points, which was second on the team, and 5.8 rebounds per game. In his first two varsity contests, Shepherd exploded out of the gates, scoring 16 and 19 points, respectively.
He missed the final 12 games of the season, however, after being ruled academically ineligible. That issue has been fixed, though, as Shepherd’s grades, too, are something he has spent hours improving.
It was also Shepherd’s first school season playing with Mt. Vernon point guard Michael Ertel, who leads the team in scoring this year at 22 ppg. Before that, Shepherd began playing AAU in the fourth grade with fellow Marauders starter James McCloud, he said. Later on, in fifth grade, Shepherd met Ertel.
The familiarity has allowed the athletic senior to feel comfortable on the court. This season, Shepherd is averaging 13.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. He alsois shooting 49 percent from the field and dishing out nearly two assists per game. Defensively he has been effective, too, blocking 1.6 shots per game.
“Over the years, we’ve built up our own chemistry with each other and gotten a better understanding of how each of us play,” Shepherd said.
After a second summer with Ertel, McCloud and the team, Shepherd stormed into his sophomore season with a chip on his shoulder after missing the back-half of his freshman year.
He finished the season averaging 13.3 ppg, which was second on the team behind Ertel, and led Mt. Vernon in rebounding at 6.1 boards per contest. Shepherd also scored in double figures in all but three games that year.
Despite the highly-encouraging campaign, Shepherd hit a bump in the road heading into his junior year. During a summer workout, Shepherd dislocated his kneecap. His confidence, he said, was affected too, which is not uncommon for an athlete after suffering an injury.
Nonetheless, Shepherd still scored his usual 13.3 ppg (56 percent shooting) and grabbed 5.8 rpg for the 18-5 Marauders, who finished 6-1 in the HHC.
Although, there were times then — and now — where he could be more selfish.
“He has always been a willing passer,” Daugherty said. “He is more concerned about making the right basketball play than he is making some sort of selfish play that was predetermined.”
Added Shepherd: “Over the years from looking at scouting reports, I know they might double in the post. I think I find my teammates for open looks. While I’m looking in the post, I’ll feel the defense and make my move, penetrate and draw for someone or kick it to the open man.”
That attitude has served Mt. Vernon well and trickled down to the rest of the program, Daugherty said.
Despite his ability to dish the ball, Shepherd has totaled 861 career points, putting him 139 shy of 1,000 with at least 12 games to play this season. He also has 412 career rebounds.
That success has recently led Shepherd to his first official college offer: “I just want to thank Dakota College for giving me my very first offer,” Shepherd posted on Twitter on Saturday.
Other schools, like Huntington University and Parkland College, have shown interest as well.
“He is going to be a tremendous college player wherever he ends up,” Daugherty said. “Whoever gets him at that level is going to get a really good person, a great player and a difference maker in their program.”
Shepherd, though, who began playing basketball as soon as he could walk, is just grateful for being noticed.
“I have been working very hard and knowing my grade issue, getting those up, it means a lot that the coaches are still willing to stick around and help me improve that,” Shepherd said. “It shows a lot in the college itself.”
Weight: 190 pounds
Parents: Shawna Morris and Marvin Shepherd
Senior Stats: 13.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.9 apg, 0.7 spg, 1.6 bpg, 49 percent from field
Career Numbers: 861 points, 412 rebounds
AAU Team: Indiana Elite Central
College Offer: Dakota College of Bottineau in North Dakota