One week after trying out for his school's most prestigious a cappella group in late February, Yale basketball player Brandon Sherrod received a phone call he hadn't expected.
A member of the Whiffenpoofs informed Sherrod he was one of 14 juniors selected for the 2014-15 version of the all-male singing group, which left the 6-foot-6 forward with an agonizing decision to make.
Since the Whiffenpoofs' year-long tour will take them to every continent besides Antarctica next school year, Sherrod knew he'd have to take a season off from basketball to perform with the group. He relished the chance to travel the world for free and focus on singing full-time as much as he despised the thought of letting down his teammates and coaches and sitting out what projects to be one of the best seasons of Yale basketball in decades.
"It was extremely tough," Sherrod said Wednesday. "I was excited to be in, but now do I disappoint my coach and hurt my teammates feelings or do I turn my back on an amazing opportunity? It was extremely exciting to get that phone call but at the same time it was gut-wrenching to think about the decisions I had to make."
It took a month of prayer, introspection and conversations with his parents before Sherrod reached a decision. He informed Yale coach James Jones he had chosen harmonies over hoops, meaning that he'd sit out all of next season before returning to the basketball team to play his final year of eligibility during the 2015-16 season.
Though Jones had lost players who transferred or violated team rules in the past, he'd never lost one to a singing group before. Jones acknowledged being disappointed about losing a forward who started 14 games last season and averaged almost seven points and four rebounds per game, but he also encouraged Sherrod to pursue his goals and promised to welcome him back to the team the following year.
"I would never ask a man to not do something for my selfish reasons," Jones said. "I asked him to make sure it was something he wanted to do, but I would never stand in his way. It took him a long time to come to a decision, but he decided he wanted it and we support him."
There probably aren't many college basketball players who would choose a year of singing over hoops, but Sherrod's musical background helps explain his decision.
Music has been a passion of Sherrod's since long before he first began playing basketball competitively during his freshman year of high school. The Bridgeport, Conn., native has sung for his church choir since childhood, founded his own a cappella group and taught himself how to play drums, saxophone and the piano.
Basketball gained in importance for Sherrod when he shed 100 pounds between his freshman and sophomore seasons in high school and developed into a college prospect. He found time to pursue both his passions in high school but the rigors of being a student at an Ivy League school and a Division I athlete has forced music to the back burner at Yale.
"My interest in music developed early in life," Sherrod said. "I loved music way before I ever picked up a basketball."
Sherrod's musical talent was obvious when he auditioned for the Whiffenpoofs. He wowed 2013-14 members with his voice and poise, securing a place in the group the following year despite being the first to try out.
"He set the standard for everyone who came in after him," Whiffenpoofs business manager Brad Ward wrote via email. For the solo part of the audition he sang "Ordinary People" by John Legend, and his rendition was fantastic. We were all impressed by his vocal agility and great musical choices and his beautiful clear tone."
Gifted as Sherrod is as both a singer and a basketball player, neither music nor sports are part of his long-term career goal. The well-rounded political science major hopes to one day be elected mayor of his hometown of Bridgeport.
For now, however, singing will be his focus. As his Yale teammates take aim at building on last year's 19-win season and trying to overthrow Harvard as Ivy League champs, Sherrod will be following them from afar as he tours the globe and tries out the life of a professional performer.
"A huge part of my decision was that I can still play my senior season in 2015-16," Sherrod said. "The Whiffs don't allow you to defer for a year and then join them. I don't want to quit basketball altogether. My basketball career isn't over. I'm taking a year off, but I wouldn't want to go out like that."
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