CHICAGO — February 26, 2015 may go down nationally as the day when llamas on the loose and a questionably colored dress took the Internet by storm.
But for Green Bay senior Keifer Sykes, it will always be the day he surpassed 2,000 career points. Not only did the 6-foot guard reach that major milestone, but he achieved it in his hometown of Chicago with scores of family and friends watching.
“I didn’t know if I was gonna get it or if I was going to be too nervous to get it,” said Sykes, who entered Thursday’s game against UIC with 1,981 points. “The energy from my family and my friends, especially my teammates and coaches, is what helped push me over the top today.”
8.3 seconds remained in the first half Thursday. Sykes had already scored 18 as the Phoenix built a 37-25 lead.
UIC’s Marc Brown missed a free throw, and the rebound carried toward Green Bay forward Kenneth Lowe. But Sykes skied in with one hand and snagged the board, cutting in front of his teammate.
“I looked up and I had 18,” Sykes said. “Kenneth tried to steal the rebound, so I tried to jump and steal it from him and push it.”
Sykes streaked down the court and swished a 3-pointer before the halftime buzzer.
“It went in and my teammates went crazy,” Sykes said.
UIC held Sykes in check for most of the second half and mounted a comeback. The Horizon League’s leading scorer tallied only 3 points in the first 13 minutes of the period as UIC eventually tied the score at 61 with 2:54 remaining.
Then Sykes took over with a layup and seven free throws in the final minutes as Green bay held on. Sykes wound up with a career-high 36 points, piling on the night’s successes in a 72-67 win.
“For a player like me, I have 2,000 points. I can score the basketball,” Sykes said. “You always envision yourself doing good things, but then when you go out there and play, it’s never perfect. A lot of things went right, and I was able to see some [shots] go down early, and it just kept flowing.”
When Sykes emerged from the locker room after the game, a throng of people were there waiting for him on the floor of the UIC Pavilion, including his mom Lisa, siblings and 4-year-old son.
“When he made the [2,000th] point, I just went crazy,” said Lisa, who was one of several people wearing a custom-made shirt that read “Syked Up and Syked Out” on the front, and “#SykesSquad” on the back. “I can’t describe the feeling, just so much excitement about it because this was something he worked for. When Keifer sets a goal to do something, he does it.”
And it worked out in a storybook-like way that Sykes got to achieve that goal in his hometown.
“To do it here in Chicago, where I’m from and grew up at, I’m really a product of my environment,” Sykes said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It means a lot for me to get it in Chicago, where so many people just made me. To give back in that way, it was the best feeling ever.”