Future walk-on Sheldon sees negative talk as ‘motivating factor’

Jonathan Lintner

WKU saw some green, and Spence Sheldon, a senior at the IMG Basketball Academy in Bradenton, Fla., saw an opportunity.

Sheldon, whose parents donate to WKU athletics, will enter the university as a preferred walk-on with the men’s basketball team next season, which is set to bring in an additional seven freshmen as part of a heralded 2011 recruiting class.

When it came to choosing between prep school and WKU, Sheldon had extra motivation to become a Topper. Bowling Green is home for his family, which owns Sheldon’s Express Pharmacy.

“It can’t hinder things — that’s for sure,” said Sheldon, who has been recruited by WKU since his freshman year at Warren Central High School.

Sheldon Family LLC has contributed just under $10,000 a year to the Hilltopper Athletic Foundation since Jan. 1, 2009, according to documents obtained by the Herald from WKU’s athletic department.

Steve and Terri Sheldon, Sheldon’s parents, both completed their undergraduate work at WKU before attending the University of Kentucky’s College of Pharmacy. They started and now operate three pharmacies in Kentucky — two in Bowling Green and one in Franklin — and own part of another location in Portland, Tenn.

Sheldon’s Express Pharmacy has been a subsidiary of Houchens Industries since March 2009. Although Houchens contributed heavily to the football stadium’s expansion, Houchens Investments Inc. has also donated almost $700,000 to WKU’s men’s basketball program since June 30, 2009, according to documents.

Sheldon, though, said his parents haven’t played a role in his recruitment.

“We knew this was coming. We knew people would talk,” Sheldon said. “More than anything, it’s just a motivating factor for me. I can’t blame people for saying what they’re saying because they haven’t seen me play in a year.

“Once I get there, hopefully I can prove how much better I have gotten.”

After his injury at Warren Central, Sheldon transferred to IMG. He’s since been offered preferred walk-on status at Georgetown University and Wake Forest and was also recruited by Florida Gulf Coast and a number of Division II schools.

Sheldon averaged 1.6 points in 17 games as a junior at Warren Central before the injury. He went on to average about 12 points and 5 assists as the starting point guard at IMG this past season.

A 6-foot shooting guard, Sheldon is rated a 75 by ESPN.com’s scouting services. But Sheldon said he practices for six or seven hours a day at IMG, where he has teammates going to Duke, St. John’s and Indiana, among others. He’s also gained about 15 pounds and hopes to be over 170 pounds by the fall.

“Your confidence can’t help but go up,” he said.

The move to bring Sheldon on was questioned by some, including Derrick Gordon, a four-star guard who helped lure much of WKU’s 2011 class to sign.

“Who is this kid Spence Sheldon that committed to WKU…have no clue who that is,” Gordon tweeted last Wednesday shortly after news broke of Sheldon’s walk-on status.

When he committed to WKU, Sheldon called the decision a “no-brainer.” He can redshirt next year but still participate in WKU’s practices, gaining a similar experience to what he would get at a prep school.

WKU officials can’t yet comment about Sheldon due to NCAA regulations. Unlike with scholarship athletes, Sheldon won’t sign a National Letter of Intent before enrolling in the fall.