Transitioning from California to Boston in the middle of the winter is less than ideal for the average warm-blooded being, but men’s basketball sophomore Michael Sheng did it earlier this year.
Following lengthy consideration of other options, Sheng, a visual and media arts major, said he joined Emerson basketball team midway through last season after being accepted off the college’s wait-list and enrolling in second-semester classes.
Sheng said he put academics first in his college search, looking for a film-focused school with a basketball program. He said after taking the first half of the year off, he adjusted quickly to joining a group that was already in full swing.
“Since I was coming in second semester, I had a bit of a mysterious vibe,” Sheng said. “[My teammates] were really excited to meet me, and I was really excited to meet them, so it just clicked.”
Sheng played in 11 games last season, but did not start any. Now in his second semester at Emerson, but with sophomore basketball eligibility, the point guard said he feels more comfortable with Emerson’s style of play under head men’s basketball coach Bill Curley.
“Last year, I didn’t really fit into the system well, because I was just learning it,” Sheng said.
Sheng started in the home opener, a loss to nearby Tufts University. In 25 minutes on the court, he scored 12 points, and made all five of his attempted free throws.
While the Lions struggled overall at the line in that contest against the Jumbos, Sheng said he typically excels in that area. According to Sheng, he made 42 consecutive free throws during a practice drill organized by Curley after the team shot 56 percent from the line against Tufts last month.
Curley praised Sheng’s game-day attitude, and said the 20-year-old is locked in when the opening buzzer sounds.
“He’s a competitor,” Curley said. “He’s like a popcorn player—he smells that popcorn on game day and he’s ready to go.”
Because Emerson is carrying 19 players on this year’s roster, Curley said Sheng will have to continue to put forth strong performances to remain a part of the starting five.
Curley also said Sheng could improve on the defensive end as the year goes on, but has grown better on both sides of the ball. He praised Sheng’s shooting skills and his on-court presence.
“In game time, he’s really alert and really has a feel for what’s going on out there,” Curley said. “He sees things.”
Sheng also said he takes pride in setting up the offense. While he mentioned shooting is his favorite aspect of the game, Sheng said he’s also not afraid to make a pass to an open teammate.
“Hopefully I can understand the system more and learn how to get everyone involved without excluding myself,” Sheng said.
Sheng balanced his play in a road game at Lesley University on Nov. 23, scoring a team-high 25 points while dishing out three assists, which tied for the team lead.
Corey Fitz, Sheng’s roommate and teammate, said Sheng effectively sets up scoring opportunities for himself and others.
“He loves to distribute the ball and get everyone involved, and when he needs to, he’s able to take over a game and score,” Fitz, a sophomore marketing communication major, said. “He’s really just a floor leader out there.”
John Geary, an Emerson forward who is also a roommate of Sheng’s, agreed with Fitz that Sheng often acts as a catalyst on offense.
“He hits the wings running in transition, and he also finds the bigs down low,” Geary, a sophomore communication studies major, said. “He does a good job of distributing the ball and finding people when they’re open.”
While Sheng’s playing time has been the most among sophomores, he’s still a relatively fresh face in the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Gym. As his career at Emerson continues, Sheng says he’s setting high goals for his teammates not only this season, but in the years that follow.
Sheng said he hopes the Lions can advance to the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference playoffs this year, perhaps even outlasting the usually strong competition—they’ve been eliminated from the first round of the postseason tournament the past two seasons.
Looking ahead, Sheng said a berth to the NCAA Division III tournament would be an ideal accomplishment before he turns in his Emerson uniform for the final time.
Curley said Sheng’s commitment to success is one of the things that continues to make him stand apart on this year’s club.
“Winning matters to him,” Curley said. “He doesn’t want to be out there just for the fun of it.”