The Heart of a Champion

(Author Note: This article was originally written on 3/11/15)

The Green Bay Phoenix fell short in the 2015 Horizon League Championship game to the Valparaiso Crusaders 54-44. The school’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 1996 would have been the perfect way for 21 year-old point guard Keifer Sykes to end his senior season. That would have been the storybook ending to an illustrious college career. But it doesn’t take away what he has accomplished.

A four-year starter, the Chicago native has averaged double-figures in scoring each season. He became the first player since Detroit Mercy’s Rashad Phillips in 2001 to win back-to-back Horizon League Player of the Year honors. He is listed as five feet, eleven inches tall. But like most basketball height listings, that could be a bit generous. His jump shot is truly a thing of beauty, as he ascends high into the air and seemingly levitates momentarily at his peak as he releases the ball.

Sykes has a solid chance at being selected in the 2015 NBA Draft. His ability to create plays off the dribble and his strong decision-making skills will be an asset for any team looking for a combo guard. Sykes wears his heart on his sleeve, almost literally. The large red tattoo on his right arm is that of a heart with the grooves and outline of a basketball. Although he does not need body art to prove it, there is no mistaking what Sykes’ passion is in life. Growing up as the youngest of nine children, Sykes lost his father to a heart attack after his Freshman year at Green Bay. Those adversities could have only strengthened him mentally and increased his hunger to succeed on the court, not to mention that he has a four-year old son to provide for.

In a regular season game last season, Green Bay upset the eventual number-three nationally ranked Virginia Cavaliers, coached by former Phoenix standout Tony Bennett. This season, Sykes recently surpassed 2,000 career points. He is now second in school history in scoring to Bennett’s 2,285. Not even Sykes can finish in first place all the time. When you see a special college basketball player like Sykes, you should just sit back and enjoy the show because they don’t come around all that often. You can question certain facets of any player’s game. But for a strong and vocal leader like Sykes, you cannot question his heart.

Note: You can watch Keifer Sykes and the Green Bay Phoenix as they play at Illinois State in the first round of the NIT Tournament on Wednesday 3/18/15 at 8 pm on ESPNU.

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