Guard Isaiah Sykes has been working on improving his perimeter game for the 2012-2013 season
Published: Monday, July 23, 2012
Updated: Monday, July 23, 2012 11:07
Isaiah Sykes knows where he needs improvement.
It shows in the numbers; Sykes’ one true vulnerability is perimeter shooting. The player who seemingly does it all for coach Donnie Jones’ program — rebound, defend and score in bunches —may need only to develop into a more consistent perimeter threat to become one of the most dangerous players around.
With that knowledge in hand, Sykes has been hard at work this summer, and he believes that his perimeter game can be fixed by ensuring his scoring is not only efficient but also timely.
“Every day, I come in and do 500 midrange shots, 300 [three pointers],” Sykes said. “Or sometimes I come in and just take 800 shots, all threes or all midrange. I’ve been working on being able to knock down open shots. If I have to take it, take it. [I’m] just getting a lot of reps every day in the gym and working with a lot of people that have been helping me with my jump shot.”
Where preparation is key in all facets of athletics, there is also something to be said about knowing how to mentally prepare for a pressure-filled moment — especially one where a player may need to perform outside of his comfort zone.
“[I] need to be consistent with shooting. Shots are not going to go down every night, but the open shots you want to knock down,” Sykes said. “[It’s about getting] a lot of repetition, going in when you’re tired and knowing you can do it if that situation were to come up in a game.”
A season ago, Sykes showed tremendous promise when he went from a scrappy, athletic role player and transformed into one of the program’s most formidable players. Sykes’ averages doubled (and in some cases tripled), and the Detroit native saw the dividends as his playing time increased. In spite of his perimeter troubles, Sykes utilized high-percentage shots (think lots of dunks and put-backs) to lead both the Knights and the rest of the guards in Conference USA with a 54.5 field goal percentage.
The rising junior is now an important piece in the program heading into a season where Sykes believes the stakes are higher than they have ever been. Consecutive 20-win seasons and an National Invitation Tournament invite have the program on an upward trend that it certainly wants to continue.
“I think the expectations are pretty high,” Sykes said. “After the [success of the] last two seasons, I just think this group of guys want more than that. Everybody is sacrificing and putting in, willing to do what the coaches want them to do and just accept their roles.”
The role Sykes must become accustomed to is clear: score, rebound, block and run. It’s easy to get lost in Sykes’ high-flying offensive abilities, but his natural talent shines on the defensive side of the ball. In the 2011-2012 season, he was the only guard to record double-digit blocks and was third overall on the team in shots sent back behind teammates Keith Clanton and Tristan Spurlock, both forwards.
“He can rebound, he can defend, he makes the right pass [and] he’s tough,” Jones said of Sykes last season. “He brings a lot of intangibles to our team.”
Joining Sykes in the quest for NCAA Tournament berth and a C-USA title — two goals the team have been vocal about heading into the fall — will be quite a few new faces. Transfers and freshmen alike will form a large part of the roster for the program this season, and despite the need to build familiarity, Sykes says this year’s team will have what it takes — to win conference.
“We have the talent to do it,” Sykes said. “[We have] a lot of individual talent that has to turn into team ball.”