Keifer Sykes kept mistiming his lob.
Or when the pass to himself was good, his approach to the rim was off.
Only a few of the college and high school players at the CP3 Elite Guard Camp last month paid attention while he tried to pull off his first few dunk attempts.
The camp roster listed him as 6 feet tall -- his height surely bolstered by growing out of his early '90s flattop. Sykes had already shown hints of his freakish athleticism despite being the shortest college guard at the four-day camp. They'd come to expect a show from Sykes, and when it became clear exactly what he was doing, the semicircle of players began to swell.
That's when it all came together. Sykes chased down a high-arcing lob to himself, jumping to catch the ball in air, and in the same fluid motion, threw down a one-handed windmill dunk.
It prompted “Ooooohs” from a crowd that included Phoenix Suns guard Isaiah Thomas and newly drafted guard Elfrid Payton of the Orlando Magic. It moved Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul, who brought his camp to his hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to seek Sykes out for a high-five. (And it should behoove you to Google, “Keifer Sykes self alley-oop.”)
Yet, this barely managed to produce a smile from Sykes.
He’s clearly pulled off dunks as entertaining as that one. He's just clamoring for a bigger audience.
Sykes, a Chicago native, is a rising senior with the Green Bay Phoenix. He’s as well-known in those parts as any athlete not wearing a Packers uniform can be. The mayor of Green Bay presented Sykes the key to the city in June.
That's what averaging 20.3 points, 4.9 assists and 4.4 rebounds last season in leading the program to its first regular-season championship since 1995-96 will get you.
Butler got acquainted with his toughness during his freshman year. Blood gushing from his head after a collision, he re-entered the game after getting stitches. It wasn’t enough. Sykes had to stop playing two other times because of blood continuing to flow from the wound. He finished the 80-68 win -- with his head taped up -- scoring 14 points with seven assists having played in three different jerseys.
They know all about Sykes in the Horizon League. He has been first-team all-conference the past two seasons and was voted player of the year last season. He was even recognized by The Associated Press nationally as an honorable-mention All-American.
But Sykes’ talent should be celebrated more throughout college basketball. The only reason it isn’t is probably because Green Bay has yet to play in the NCAA tournament during his tenure.
The past two seasons, the Phoenix were eliminated in the league tournament. When Sykes was a sophomore, they lost on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to Valparaiso. When he was a junior, armed with the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage, they squandered a late lead and lost in overtime to Milwaukee.
When you don’t regularly play on national television or in front of crowds reaching 10,000, it’s easy to get overlooked.
Obviously, there’s no guarantee that the Phoenix would have pulled off an upset in the NCAA tournament had they made it. But consider this: Sykes scored a career-high 32 points in a 69-66 loss to Wisconsin, who made the Final Four as a 2-seed. And he lit up ACC champion Virginia, which secured a No. 1 seed in the tournament, with 21 points and 10 assists in a 75-72 win.
Sykes has proven he performs well on the big stage. Keep him in mind when it’s time to shine the spotlight this season.