Same Sykes brings new consistency
She is still the same player that came to Piscataway two years ago as the No. 2 overall recruit in the country.
And she is still the same player who struggled through her first two seasons of collegiate basketball at Rutgers.
But things are different this time around, be it junior April Sykes' new number or newfound consistency on the court.
The Starkville, Miss., native is just keeping it simple this time around.
"It's fun, it's exciting, [and] I'm relaxed," Sykes said. "My teammates do a great job distributing the ball to me. We're playing as a team, we don't really force a lot of things, and I think it's great that our shooting percentage is the best in a long time at Rutgers."
The Knights' shooting percentage stands a 46.2 percent — the highest percentage a Rutgers team has had in the past four seasons and far better than last year's lowly 39.2 percent clip.
Sykes' 29.3 shooting percentage, among other factors, brought down the team total a year ago, but this year the forward's play is an integral part of the team's offensive success.
Her 18-point outing against Central Connecticut State displayed her scoring explosiveness and also reiterated how significant her presence is on the floor. In games in which Sykes scored in double-figures throughout her career, Rutgers is 11-3.
The junior forward rattled off six double-digit scoring efforts this season, but none were more impressive than her performances over the past four contests, when Sykes dropped at least 18 points on three different occasions.
Over that span, Sykes owns a 64 percent mark from the field — more than double what she shot last season under head coach C. Vivian Stringer.
With the same mold of guards, including juniors Nikki Speed and Khadijah Rushdan feeding her on the court, the East Oktibbeha (Miss.) product never takes all the credit.
Sykes attributes it all to the team's summer workouts.
"I like to think that it has a lot to do with us believing and trusting in each other," Sykes said. "During summer, we probably could close our eyes and tell you what the next person was going to do, because we know each other that well."
While Sykes' scoring directly relates to her simplifying her approach on the court, as well as the team's chemistry, there may be another reason why things are finally beginning to click.
Sykes spent her first two years at Rutgers with No. 12 on the back of her jersey, but doubled that number up at the beginning of the season with No. 24.
At first glance, it can be dismissed as a simple number change. A deeper look reveals otherwise.
"Every time I hear the national anthem I'm kissing to my dad and it's something I always think about," Sykes said of her father, Michael Sykes, who passed away 18 years ago. "When everything's going wrong I always go back to, ‘He's not here and I am here, so I've got to make the best of it.' It always helps me get over that hump."
Sykes' father donned No. 24 during his playing days, and though those days have long passed, Sykes' still lay ahead.
It is now Sykes' third season of collegiate basketball and some things are clearly different, but overall she is still that same competitor from Starkville, Miss.
And though Sykes joined the Knights more than two years ago, now more than ever she is playing the way everyone surrounding the program expected her to play.
"It's been a long time, hasn't it? Longer than what long is," Stringer said. "I tell you what … it's been a long time and it's great to see."
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