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Sykes playing solid for Green Bay

Clint Berge, Sports Writer
December 12, 2012
Filed under Sports

What 5-foot–11-inch sophomore Keifer Sykes lacks in size, he makes up for with athletic ability and personality. Due to his play on the court and ability to make others smile off the court, the Phoenix basketball program is reaching new heights with Sykes as a young and dynamic playmaker.

After concluding the 2011-2012 season second on the team in points-per-game with 11.2 and leading the team in assists with 101, Sykes has stepped up his game even more this season.

Sykes led the team in scoring with an average of 16 points-per-game and was tied with senior Brennan Cougill with 22 assists. Dec. 10.

Third year head coach Brian Wardle has been impressed with the progress of Sykes less than a year and a half into his collegiate career.

“His ability to score the ball has improved dramatically in a year,” Wardle said. “He is able to give consistent offense if we need it.”

Scoring the ball is something Sykes has thrived on, and his 335 points as a freshman were the third most for a freshman in the Division 1 era for Green Bay and the most since Tony Bennett had 516 in the 1988-1989 season. Bennett went on to play three seasons in the NBA for the Charlotte Hornets.

Sykes’ freshman success didn’t go unnoticed. Hhe was named to the preseason All-Horizon League second team coming into this season.

The preseason selection was an honor for Sykes, but he is looking at how his talent and success can benefit the team and the conference.

“People think I can do good things this year for the Horizon League and for our team,” Sykes said. “We have a good team and we are going in the right direction.”

The Phoenix is 3-5 as of Dec. 10, coming off a loss to Tennessee Tech Dec. 6.

That’s not where Wardle wants to be, and said the team needs to improve, but improvement is a common word used among coaches.

“We have a lot to improve on in a lot of areas,” Wardle said. “Every team in the nation is saying they can improve on everything because it’s so early.”

Sykes was named the Horizon League player of the week for the second time in his career, Nov. 12. Two days prior, Sykes worked his way towards the award by dropping 31 points on Cleveland State in a Green Bay 72-67 victory at the Resch Center. Sykes’ 31-point performance led all scorers and had three times as many points as anyone else on the team. The 31-point-outing for Sykes was the most in his career, topping a 27-point-performance against UIC the previous season. It was also the first time in Wardle’s time in Green Bay where a player scored thirty or more for the Phoenix.

Performances like that for Sykes have gained the attention and respect from the coaches and teammates.

“Point guard is the No. 1 position you have to have in college basketball,” Wardle said. “We have a very good, young one in Keifer.”

Even with a career high 31-point-performance, a different game where Sykes was the game’s leading scorer with 16 points sticks out to the young guard. The Phoenix played host to Wright State, Jan. 14 trying to avoid losing its fifth straight contest. Sykes and the Phoenix were determined not to let that happen despite being down by as many as 17 points in the second half. The team was trailing by a point with three seconds remaining, when Sykes knocked down a pair of free throws en route to the 57-56 victory.

“That was a great comeback win and started a run of eight out of ten wins,” Sykes said. “It was a great win for the team, the city and the community.”

Even with the athletic talent and ability to make crucial shots, it is another aspect of Sykes that has really caught on.

“His personality is contagious,” Wardle said. “He is very funny and the guys love him in the locker room. Off the floor with the media and in the community he is just so well–liked because of his personality.”

Wardle said being successful off the court translates to wins on the court.

“These things really carry over well to lead the team,” Wardle said.

Sykes was the first true freshman to start at point guard for the Phoenix since Rahmon Fletcher in 2007. Rahmon is the fifth leading scorer in program history.

Sykes and the Phoenix have not played as well as they hoped but playing more games at the Resch will hopefully translate into success.

“We have been a little inconsistent,” Wardle said. “When playing inconsistently it’s tough to win on the road and we have had a lot of road games already.”

More games at home will give fans the opportunity to see Sykes continue to grow as a player on the court, grow as a person off the court and continue to lead the Phoenix to even bigger and better things.