It’s not uncommon for Derrick Sharp to be recognized when he’s out and about in the Tampa Bay area, while he’s shopping, running errands or just going about his day.
The new Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School varsity boys basketball coach has been approached by strangers at clothing stores, mall kiosks and tire shops, among other places.
And, it’s usually not because they remember him as a 6-foot-1 sharpshooting combo guard and leading scorer at the University of South Florida (USF) in the early 1990s.
Rather, it’s his 18-year professional hoops career in Israel that people recognize — perhaps most frequently at the Glazer Family Jewish Community Center in Tampa.
“I have so many stories, it’s crazy,” Sharp said of how often he’s been spotted since moving back to Florida in 2013.
Sharp, 48, may go unnoticed by the casual American basketball observer.
But, overseas, he is something of a folk hero. He played predominantly for the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball club — the most successful and widely known team in Israel.
Undrafted out of USF, Sharp made the roughly 6,500-mile trek to Israel pursuing dreams of a professional basketball career.
The Orlando native had an idea of what he was getting into because four former USF teammates (Gary Alexander, Radenko Dobras, Fred Lewis, Bobby Russell) made the jump to the Middle Eastern country the prior year.
Sharp first played for Maccabi Hadera (1993-94) and Beitar Migdal-HaEmek (1994-96), before spending the next 15 seasons (1996 to 2011) with Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Mccabi Tel Aviv is where his most notable achievements came. It won 13 Israel national league championships, 11 Israel state cups and three European-wide titles (champions of the 2001 FIBA SuproLeague, 2004 EuroLeague, 2005 EuroLeague).
Sharp also generated a number of individual accolades. He was an All-Star, elected to the Israeli League’s 2000s All-Decade Team, named one of Maccabi Tel Aviv’s 11 Greatest Players, and was a member of the senior Israeli national team from 2000 to 2003.
Sharp is best known for one of the most famous baskets in European basketball history.
In 2004, he hit a miraculous buzzer-beating three-pointer that forced overtime in a win-or-go-home game against Lithuania’s Zalgiris Kaunas that lifted Maccabi Tel Aviv to the EuroLeague Final Four. In Israel, it’s simply known as the “Zalgiris miracle.”
Just how famous is Sharp in Israel? Following his retirement, he participated in a docu-reality television show called “Hayehida,” centered on 10 Israeli celebrities being trained as an army entertainment troupe.
Sharp calls Israel his “home away from home.” It’s where he not only had immense hoops success, but also met his future wife and started a family. He became a naturalized citizen and speaks fluent Hebrew.
“I spent half my life there,” Sharp said, “so it’s definitively a part of me.”
For Sharp, uprooting to the land of milk and honey “was a pretty easy transition” more than 25 years ago.
He noted English was the country’s secondary language and described aspects of an “Americanized” culture, “so it really wasn’t that big of a change, actually.”
Moreover, he was eager to go anywhere and do anything to better his craft on the hardwood.
“My main focus was getting better and playing. It was practice and home,” he said. “I was really focused on getting better and trying to reach a level that I was capable of, so I was really mature and disciplined.”
Now, here’s a sign of it being a small world: Sharp played alongside nine-year NBA veteran Anthony Parker for several seasons with Maccabi Tel Aviv in the early to mid 2000s. Parker now lives in Wesley Chapel and is general manager of the Lakeland Magic, a developmental affiliate of the NBA’s Orlando Magic. “He’s probably one of the greatest Americans to play overseas,” Sharp said of Parker. “He’s kind of like the Michael Jordan of Europe.”
Sharp’s playing career stands on its own, but it’s his coaching ability and offspring that’s taking flight.
Sharp was named Hillsborough County Coach of the Year after guiding Blake High School to a 22-6 record and the Class 5A regional quarterfinals during the 2019-2020 season.
He spent a total of five seasons at Blake, winning four games combined the first three seasons, then going 11-12 before this year’s breakout run.
It didn’t hurt having his son, Emmanuel Sharp, on the court. The 6-foot-4 sophomore guard averaged a state-leading 31.9 points per game this year, while on his way to being named Florida Dairy Farmers 5A Player of the Year.
Both Sharps will head to the private school in Spring Hill, looking to quickly turnaround a program that went 2-22 last year and has just one winning season in the last decade.
In leaving what he’s built at Blake High for a Bishop McLaughlin rebuild, the elder Sharp mainly cited the academic component of more structured, smaller classes for his son. “It’s just a great opportunity,” he said.
In addition to the Sharps, Blake High’s Anthony Davis Jr., and Sickles High’s Dillon Mitchell are also transferring to Bishop McLaughlin. Like Emmanuel Sharp, both hold Division I scholarship offers and are viewed among the top players statewide.
“The kids are going to make the big difference; it’s all about the kids,” Derrick Sharp said.
With an influx of talent, the new coach is looking to beef up the team’s schedule, with more competitive tournaments, road games and so on.
“I’d rather lose by five (points) than win by 40 — to build character and build necessary skills mentally for these kids going forward,” he said.
As for what to expect stylistically, Derrick Sharp plans to run a system heavy on fastbreaks, three-pointers, pressing and trapping.
He observed of his coaching style, “Just being in attack mode on both ends of the floor, play hard, play together, and have fun.”
Bishop McLaughlin athletic director Rex Desvaristes said he didn’t know of Derrick Sharp, until his application and resume came across his desk for the coaching vacancy.
But, Desvaristes said the former Israeli pro quickly emerged as the school’s “best candidate” throughout the interview process because of “his demeanor, his love for the youth and coaching the game.”
Sharp’s selection as head coach was announced last month.
“It was a great match,” Desvaristes said. “He started a program at Blake, similar to where our program is currently, and he built it up to where it is now, and his passion and just teaching and developing these athletes is what stood out to me.”
The athletic director added: “He fits our mission and our motto, and that’s to educate and cultivate Christ-centered athletes.”
Published May 13, 2020