Globetrotting Phoenix recruit Keifer Sykes still chasing his NBA dream

Joining his fifth club in 12 months, Keifer Sykes' path to his impressive NBL debut has been the continuation of a globetrotting basketball journey for the Chicago native.

Tallying 18 points and 11 assists against the Adelaide 36ers, Sykes' orchestrated the Phoenix offence, displaying his much-touted maturity and leadership that he says stems from his late father's guidance.

"For sure it was my dad, 100 percent my dad, rest in peace to him," Sykes tells ESPN of his father, James. "He was a leader. You have to have those leaders as a kid and people that you follow to develop and be nurtured and grow into the person you want to become."

Sykes dominates as Phoenix blow past 36ers

Raised on Chicago's west side, the 5-foot-11 Sykes learned from a young age the significant challenge of staying on the right path in a community where crime and violence can be commonplace.

"Growing up in Chicago, it's easy to get off track and feel victimised about your life, and that you got dealt a bad hand and things are unfair whether that be socially, whatever the case may be and feel sorry for yourself and give up," he says. "He told me I have to be able to stand on my own and say yes when people are saying no.

"I was able to see other kids don't have a father and their life turned out the other way. My dad always preached leadership. Good leadership is good followship because you have to follow before you lead. He told me from a young age 'if you don't feel comfortable about something, ask questions or challenge the norms even if you have to stand out'."

James Sykes tragically passed away from a heart attack in 2012 after Keifer's freshman season at the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay. A devastating blow for the then teenager, Sykes steeled his focus on not only becoming an NCAA star on his way to turning pro, but graduating college, which he ultimately achieved in 2015.

"Basketball was always something that kept me focused," he says. "Sports teach us to be coachable, teamwork, chemistry, intangibles, hard work, community, everything. Those things that sports teach us has kept me focused."

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Originally anxious to leave his hometown for college, Sykes credits his experiences in Green Bay for preparing him for what the future would hold.

"I think going to Green Bay and experiencing that opened my mind to other parts of the world," Sykes recalls. "I was finally in a spot where I'm the minority and the way they accepted me just made me comfortable adapting. That's why I've been working on being versatile as a human being and a basketball player."

Despite the significant achievements on the court in a career that has taken him from the US to China to Europe, he is quick to remind you that he wants to be viewed as far more than an electric point guard who can fill up the box score.

"Growing up as an athlete it was just, 'oh you're just a basketball player'. We are best known as basketball players, but I want people to know me as a father, that's what I do.

"I'm an entrepreneur, I'm a businessman, I'm a philanthropist. I do those things on purpose to teach kids. We are best known for being a basketball player, but you need more than that."

Phoenix star and teammate Mitch Creek has seen first-hand what the import can bring to the group as a person and athlete, with Sykes' impact already being felt in his first month with the team.

"Keifer's a great guy - I have a lot of time for him. I love his energy, I love who he is as a person," he told ESPN's Ball and the Real World podcast. "I've had enough time to spend and learn about his family, about his kids, about who he is as a person, as well as where he's come from.

On the court, Skykes can fill it up, scoring from all three levels, with Creek admitting the team may need him to become more assertive as the season rolls on.

"One of the things Keifer does is, he brings such an unselfish presence to the group ... he makes plays for us; he's very unselfish," he said. I'd like him to probably be a little more selfish. They're conversations we continue to have. We want to try to balance being aggressive, and being unselfish and try to distribute. He'll come into his own even more so."

Sykes remains committed to the team-first approach, believing growing status of the NBL can help him to achieve his unwavering goal of finding his place in the NBA.

"I'm all about challenging myself and seeing how well I can adapt," he says.

"This is another way to keep me motivated, it's not about the money. The NBA has fingerprints all over this league, our team alone has five owners from the NBA. This league will help keep me motivated, I want to measure myself up in this league. Pushing yourself to your limits is fun and seeing how far you can take it and I still want to take it to the NBA."

A leader and a role model, Sykes' character will never be questioned, but for those unfamiliar with his game, what can NBL fans expect on the court?

"I've got my game to a level where it's exciting and fun to watch, those things are definitely great, that's my brand," Sykes says with a smile. "Dunking the basketball, throwing the ball off the backboard, you've got to take risks, have fun and get the crowd involved.

"I honestly just want to win, though, I measure myself on wins. I'm coming here to win. Ultimately if people ask me, I'm focused on winning, I study the game, I'll do whatever my coaches and teammates need me to do to win. I want to be known as a winner and I'm excited to prove that to people.

"I'm excited to come here and show people I win, so people don't just say I can score because I'm more than that."