While COVID-19 cases continue to force changes to the NBL schedule, the league has enjoyed its second NBA fairytale in a matter of weeks.
Former South East Melbourne Phoenix import Keifer Sykes has enjoyed a stunning rise with the Indiana Pacers starting at point guard in their 129-121 loss to Brooklyn Nets on Thursday (AEDT) after seven years playing around the world and in the NBA G-League.
The Pacers’ Keifer Sykes.Credit:AP
With 10 players inactive for the Nets game due to COVID-19 protocols and injuries, Sykes was brought back from the G-League, having spent the pre-season with the Pacers.
Sykes had 22 points and six assists against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday (AEDT) before backing it up with 18 points and five assists against Brooklyn.
The 180-centimetre, 28-year-old had match-ups with Kyrie Irving, who is unvaccinated and played his first game this season, and Patty Mills, with Sykes holding his own at both ends. The call-up followed that of Melbourne United title-winner Scotty Hopson, who made his Oklahoma City Thunder debut last week after 10 years overseas.
“I’m not here to survive, I’m here to thrive,” Sykes said after the Knicks game.
“I told myself in the summer that no matter what, I wanted to play in the NBA. I knew I could be in the G-League, with another team or this team – I just told myself be ready for anything.”
Sykes played a key role in the Phoenix making the semi-finals, and he has remained in touch with coach Simon Mitchell who joined Phoenix chief executive Tommy Greer in praising the player.
“I message with Keifer quite often and got one this morning as he was keyed up for the Nets’ game,” Mitchell said on Thursday.
“I’m just tremendously proud of him, seven years to get to your rookie game, you love to hear those stories in sport.
“It shows just how good these guys are and the player depth across the world, particularly in the NBL.
“Those guys are all over the world, the NBA world just doesn’t know it. It’s a hell of a lot easier to score in the NBA than in the NBL because of their rules, I watched him in the first half against the Nets and was thinking, ‘Damn, I wish we could have created that space for him here’.
“I hope more players see the NBL as a pathway like Keifer did.”
Greer said Sykes’ performance was a fairytale.
“There’s plenty of players out there who are blessed with opportunity after opportunity due to their size or athleticism,” Greer said.
“So you just love it when you see a guy like Keifer who’s done it the tough way. He’s fought the good fight for such a long time.
“To see him taking it the way he is, on some of the biggest stages like Madison Square Garden it’s truly incredible.”
‘Good Vibes Only’ for Mills
Mills has only been in Brooklyn less than a season, but the Olympic bronze medallist has already become a fan favourite with the Nets putting on a T-shirt promotion against Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday (AEDT).
The first 10,000 fans at Barclays Centre in Brooklyn will receive a specially commissioned T-shirt with a cartoon Mills’ flicking his wrist after shooting and the Boomers’ “Gold Vibes Only” phrase adapted to “Good Vibes Only”.
“This has good energy to it,” Mills told Nets media when shown the design.
“Brooklyn graffiti [writing], Australian green and gold, the flick of the wrist – love it.”
Sadly, it doesn’t appear the T-shirt will be available in Australia although Hoops Heaven did ask the Nets if they could send some Down Under given Mills’ popularity at home.
Wilson’s 400th game, Boomers, Caps to play Monday
The Melbourne Boomers and Canberra Capitals are poised to announce a second game this round following their clash at Gippsland Indoor Sports Stadium on Saturday night.
The game will be Capitals guard Kelly Wilson’s 400th game with the Leongatha native making league history in her home region after her club’s clash with Sydney on Wednesday was postponed due to COVID-19 cases.
Boomers and Capitals officials worked together this week to allow the Capitals to remain in Victoria, bringing forward their next visit to Melbourne on February 25 to Monday night at the State Basketball Centre.
The Capitals’ Kelly Wilson (left) reaches a big WNBL milestone this weekend.Credit:Getty Images
“We think this is what the league needs to do, you need to be opportunistic and take games when you can,” Boomers chairman Tony Hallam told Hoops Heaven.
“It will be like a dress rehearsal for finals as [in a best-of-three series] you will likely play on Saturday and then Monday.
“Changes fluster people but the teams who manage that the best will give themselves as good of an opportunity as anybody.”
Every NBL “roster” has COVID issues, league keeps playing
The NBL has told CEOs every roster in the league is dealing with COVID-19 cases as more games were postponed on Thursday.
Tasmania JackJumpers chief executive Simon Brookhouse told media on Thursday every side in the league was dealing with the issue and his side was no different with nine players and a couple of coaches struck down since Sunday.
The NBL still hopes to complete five games this round, starting with Cairns Taipans playing the Sydney Kings in Cairns on Saturday.
“The league told us in a CEOs meeting earlier this week that there are positive cases among each roster, we are not immune to it and no one else is as you can see,” Brookhouse said.
The JackJumpers have had to postpone their home game against the Sydney Kings and Monday’s clash with South East Melbourne Phoenix at the State Basketball Centre, Wantirna South, which was a sellout.
Greer said the Phoenix staff and players were disappointed but were working hard to schedule a game in their “heartland” as soon as they could. The Phoenix had nine players at training on Thursday due to COVID-19 and injuries.
They aren’t scheduled to play until January 15 against Brisbane Bullets and have already spent more than 20 days without playing so could threaten the North Melbourne Giants for the NBL record after coach Brett Brown’s side sat for 36 days due to the Atlanta Olympics break.
Melbourne United’s clash with the Illawarra Hawks was postponed, as was Cairns Taipans versus the Phoenix.
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