Brittney Sykes might not be gracing the Dancing With The Stars stage anytime soon, but her pre-game dance routine is just one of the many ways she has energized the Atlanta Dream fan base this season.
With the WNBA All-Star break now in her rearview mirror, the first-year guard from Syracuse University is well on her way to an unforgettable rookie season.
Sykes has skillfully played her way into the Rookie Of The Year conversation, and new fans of the WNBA have begun to sing her praises, proving that she rightfully belongs amongst the best players in the world.
The proof is in her numbers.
Sykes was named WNBA rookie of the month for July, as the seventh overall pick in the WNBA Draft led all newcomers in scoring with 17.8 points per game, which was good for third overall in the Eastern Conference and eighth in the league.
She also paced first-year players in three categories – rebounding, three-pointers made and minutes played. Additionally, she paced the Eastern Conference rookies in three-point field goal percentage.
Sykes scored in double figures in all eleven of Atlanta’s games last month to extend her streak to 13. The first three 20-point performances of her career came in three consecutive games during the third week of July.
And that wasn’t all.
She poured in a career-high 27 points, including 12-of-13 shooting from the free throw line, while dishing out a career-high five assists and grabbing four rebounds in the Dream’s recent 100-96 overtime loss to Washington.
Although she has thrived after being inserted into the starting lineup only a few games into the season, Sykes readily admits that there were pros and cons that came with that transition.
“The difference is that when you are on the bench you can see how the game started, how the flow of the game is, and I got to see some of the offensive tendencies of the players on the floor,” Sykes said. “When you start, then you get to set the tone as to how your team is going to play and how the other team has to respond to your play. Either way, I know in my head that when I am on the floor, I have to play my hardest.”
Nice work indeed for an unheralded player who wasn’t even invited to attend the draft, and who wasn’t projected to be among the elite in the league.
Instead, Sykes spent one of the biggest nights of her life at home.
Sitting in a house full of 40 people in her Newark, New Jersey home on draft night was a surreal moment for Sykes as her name was announced in the first round, eliciting screams from her assembled family and friends.
She became the highest-drafted Orange women’s basketball player in school history, reaching the pro ranks after two ACL tears within a year while at Syracuse.
Now she is competing for the team she coveted, on her own terms.
Current Atlanta and former Los Angeles Sparks world champion head coach Michael Cooper – who was one of the unsung but important pieces of the five-time champion “showtime” Los Lakers squad of the 1980’s – decided to take a chance on Sykes because he saw glimpses of himself in the hard-working, gritty 5-foot-9 inch dynamo he has affectionately dubbed “Slim.”
“She is a very talented basketball player that I have watched since she was at Syracuse,” Cooper said. “We think we were lucky to get here as late as we did because of the way she plays defense.”
Cooper’s keen eye for young talent immediately begun to pay dividends for the Dream – especially with Olympian Angel McCoughtry sitting out the 2017 season. Buoyed by the play of Sykes, who began the season as the only rookie on Atlanta’s roster, the Dream have surpassed all expectations to compete with the league’s elite teams on a regular basis.
Currently they are battling Seattle for the final spot in the WNBA playoffs with similar records and only a handful of games left to play.
Sykes dropped a cool 19 points against top-tier Phoenix in their first meeting, in a win that could go a long way in deciding Atlanta’s playoff future.
“We have a very dangerous team and if all of us are going off at the same time we can be unstoppable,” Sykes said. “If we are going to win a championship this year it will have to be on the defensive end.”
There are still there are doubters that haven’t fully embraced a player who is definitely among the up-and-coming faces of the WNBA, but the fact that she was passed over for this year’s All-Star game in Seattle will continue to motivate Sykes as she closes in on one of the best rookie seasons in team history.
“When you set goals for yourself and you don’t get what you worked hard for, it happens, but it makes you hungrier,” Sykes said. “I told my mother and my high school coach the night I got drafted that I would be rookie of the year. There are a lot of great players (in this year’s rookie class) but I have been through a lot and winning that award would make it all worth it.”
If that happens, Sykes will certainly have more than enough fodder for her radio show this fall.