Culture / Sporting Life

The True Story of Houston’s Two World 6th Man Emanuel Sharp — Pro Player Parents and Israel Smoke Bomb Dodging Give This Freshman an International Edge

An 18-Year-Old Future Star Is Mature Enough to Make an Impact Now For the Nation's No. 1 Team

BY // 03.01.23

Emanuel Sharp still remembers the moment he first felt drawn into his dad’s international pro basketball world vividly. Derrick Sharp won a championship for Maccabi Tel Aviv (one of many for him) and brought his young son centerstage with him.

“When I got to go on the court with him, the picture ended up being in the newspaper,” Sharp tells PaperCity. “They took a picture of my dad holding me up next to the trophy.

“Stuff like that, I loved as a kid.”

Sharp, now an 18-year-old freshman guard on the University of Houston’s No. 1 ranked basketball team, still has a copy of that photo. It’s the stuff hoops dreams are made of. A reminder of the possibilities and all places basketball can take you.

Emanuel Sharp is starting to make some basketball memories of his own at UH, having emerged as a sixth man instant scorer for one of the most talented teams in America. Sharp can change games with a few flicks of his wrist. He’s shooting 36 percent from distance overall (even after going an uncharacteristic 1 for 11 on threes in the last three games heading into Thursday night’s Fertitta Center finale), having hit three or more triples in five games (only preseason All-American guard Marcus Sasser has made more threes overall for this No. 1 team). But Sharp is showing more than a long distance game. He’s driving to the hoop more frequently, flashing his floater game, rebounding with more consistency and even earning praise from UH’s taskmaster of a coach Kelvin Sampson for his defensive effort.

Someone might say that Sharp is playing like his dad, who is still a beloved figure in Israel. But Derrick Sharp himself would tell you differently.

“I was the kind of player that was a two guard in a point guard’s body,” Derrick Sharp says from his home in Florida. “I didn’t have the size for a real two guard, but I didn’t have the ball handling skills of a point guard.

“He’s kind of the reincarnation of what I wish I was. He inspires me with his skills.”

When Derrick Sharp won a championship for Maccabi Tel Aviv, his then young son Emaneul Sharp was right there. Derrick Sharp holds up the trophy as Emanuel Sharp dances with joy.
When Derrick Sharp won a championship for Maccabi Tel Aviv, his then young son Emaneul Sharp was right there, more excited than anybody. Derrick Sharp holds up the trophy as Emanuel Sharp (striped shirt and white bag) dances with joy. (Courtesy The Sharp family)

Derrick Sharp certainly made the most of his own skills. He played professional basketball in Israel for 18 years. Always seeming to rise to the occasion in the biggest moments. Like the leaning triple he hit at the buzzer to force overtime in the EuroLeague semifinals in 2004, the year Emanuel was born. Derrick Sharp’s Maccabi team went on to win that game and to take the championship on its home floor.

Emanuel Sharp doesn’t remember that championship, but he can picture others. But it’s the wild atmosphere in the stands that sometimes grips him even more.

“The fans over there are way crazier,” Emanuel Sharp says, shaking his head at the memory. “They got the face paint. The flags. The drums. The fire. They got all that.”

And more.

“There’s smoke bombs going off,” Derrick Sharp says, laughing. “They’re shooting rockets. There’s drums. They’re very, very frantic. They’re very passionate.”

Experiencing that type of atmosphere up close can change a basketball player. Make a more run-of-the-mill screaming crowd seem less intimidating. Emanuel Sharp didn’t just watch the craziness of Israel’s basketball fan scene either. He’s played in it, competing for the Israel national team in the FIBA U16 Division A Tournament.

Emanuel Sharp averaged 25 points per game in that setting as a 15-year-old.

“I feel like everybody should get a chance to go overseas and see how it is. It helps you as a player and a person being able to adapt to different types of players.” — UH guard Emanuel Sharp

In many ways, Emanuel Sharp’s been raised for this. His mom Justine Ellison Sharp also played pro basketball in Israel for 10 years after a standout career at the University of Toronto.

“I grew up around professional basketball,” Emanuel Sharp says. “That’s really all I know. Coming from that background, I learned to enjoy the game that much more. Because as a kid you want to be like your parents.

“So seeing them go play at a top level, it makes it that much more important to me.”

Emanuel’s brother Gabriel Sharp is playing basketball at Kalamazoo College. His sister Maya Sharp is a high level volleyball standout. Derrick Sharp coached his sons Emanuel and Gabriel at Bishop McLaughlin high school and he’s coaching Emanuel’s little brother 9-year-old Noah on his third grade travel team these days.

“He says he’s going to be better than Emanuel,” Derrick Sharp says with a laugh. “So I’ve got to help him get there.”

Yes, this is one driven family.

“Derrick was an outstanding player,” UH assistant coach Quannas White says. “When you have a father that has played professionally — and not just played, but who’s been extremely successful — being his kid that’s why Emanuel is the way he is.

“And now you bring him into our program, our culture and the development that we do, the sky is the limit for that kid.”

“He’s kind of the reincarnation of what I wish I was. He inspires me with his skills.” — Former pro basketball player Derrick Sharp on his son Emanuel Sharp

Emanuel Sharp’s Injury Fight

It didn’t always feel like that to Emanuel Sharp. Not after a horrific leg injury ended his senior season of high school before it even started. Sharp broke his fibula and dislocated his ankle in the same leg in a preseason practice, necessitating a grueling rehab which Sharp mostly underwent with UH director of sports performance Alan Bishop and associate athletic director for sports medicine John Houston after enrolling early at the school.

Derrick Sharp couldn’t really relate to what his son was going through, having never suffered anything close to a serious injury himself. But mom could. Justine Ellison Sharp got hurt in high school and went through surgery. Then had another during her pro career that didn’t stop her. She helped Emanuel Sharp keep the faith.

And dad would show Emanuel segments of the ESPN show Genesis that explored the origin stories of athletes. Stories like Dwight Howard breaking his leg in high school and using the time to change his game and become an NBA sure thing.

“It was all these origins of athletes and how they became better,” Derrick Sharp tells PaperCity. “Trying to use (the injury) as a positive. Tell him if he wants it bad enough he’ll be able to come back and be even better than he was before.”

Not that it was easy.

“That was a significant injury as probably anyone’s had,” UH assistant coach Kellen Sampson tells PaperCity. “Coming from back from that is not easy. (Emanuel) got used to walking and running with a limp. And he had relearn how to walk. And that doesn’t happen overnight. You can’t just tell him, ‘Stop limping.’

“In light of the injury, he relearned how to walk. You want to cope with the injury, you have to throw that out. Get past that. And there were so many days Bishop would come show me (video clips on) the phone of the progress that he was making. But that’s such a tedious, lonely existence for E-Man and Alan.”

University of Houston freshman Emanuel Sharp is a sixth man with 3-point pop and more. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
University of Houston freshman Emanuel Sharp is a sixth man with 3-point pop and more. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Having made it all the way back by last summer, Emanuel Sharp immediately started impressing Marcus Sasser, the best shooter on the team.

“I say probably like the first two weeks,” Sasser says when I ask when he first thought Sharp would be a big contributor on this deep national championship hunting Houston team. “When you work out with somebody, you can tell when somebody is a really good shooter,

“He was making almost the same amount of shots as me. So I was like ‘He’s a good shooter for sure.’ ”

Emanuel Sharp is showing an ability to come in right off the bench and hit shots, no easy task. Sasser points out that Sharp warms up like he’s a starter, going about it with a purposefulness that translates when Sampson calls for him to enter the game.

“That’s another thing I like about him,” Sasser says. “His maturity as a freshman.”

A Kobe Bryant Like Upbringing

In some ways, it’s an international maturity, one gained with an upbringing that is more like Kobe Bryant’s than what a traditional U.S. high school star goes through.

“I feel like everybody should get a chance to go overseas and see how it is,” Emanuel Sharp says. “It helps you as a player and a person being able to adapt to different types of players. Because the players over here are not the same as the players over there.”

The United States AAU and high school game is more built around athleticism while the international game is more about drilling in fundamentals and skills in Sharp’s experience. He figures he’s now combining the best of two worlds like a chef picking between ingredients.

Even if no one is throwing a smoke bomb when he’s at the free throw line these days.

Derrick Sharp sees another parallel, one that makes him believe in basketball magic. The kind he used to create. For when he won that EuroLeague Championship for Maccabi, the final four was held in his team’s home city of Tel Aviv. And Derrick Sharp was the sixth man instant offense shooter for that team.

Now a different Final Four is coming to Houston, the Cougars’ home city. And Derrick Sharp’s son is the sixth man scorer for the hometown title favorites.

“It’s very eerily similar to Houston’s team with the Final Four being held in Houston,” this proud dad says with a laugh. “. . . History is repeating itself hopefully.”

Like father, like son. . . This is one basketball dream that is still being written.

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