Keifer Sykes Is Working Toward New Goals After Reaching His Dreams With The Indiana Pacers

The day before Keifer Sykes turned 28-years old, he accomplished a lifelong dream and made it to the NBA. He logged 10 minutes of action for the Indiana Pacers in a loss against the Charlotte Hornets, finishing with one rebound and two assists.

“When they gave me the call, I definitely cried on the way up there,” Sykes shared of his feeling when signing with the Pacers. “I worked all my life to get that first NBA shot… that was everything for me.”

For Sykes, it was a long, difficult journey to get to that point. He’s a shorter point guard, and that player archetype already has to be more skilled than others to reach the highest level. His father, a key figure in his life, passed away when Keifer was 18 and had just wrapped up his freshman year of college. After Sykes’ NCAA days, he played in South Korea, Turkey, Italy, China, Greece, and Australia while waiting for NBA opportunities. He wanted it, and he was going to fight for it.

Sykes had a few short stops with NBA teams for training camp and Summer League, including Cleveland, San Antonio, Golden State, and Denver. He never latched on with any of those teams, but he never quit.

“What pushed me toward my dream was to want to make the NBA,” he said of his motivation to never give up. “More of just wanting to be one of the best players in the world, playing the best competition in the world. Continuing to test myself as a player.”

Those desires made his Pacers tenure all the more sweet. Sykes joined Indiana in 2021-22 for Summer League and preseason play, but he was waived just before the regular season. It was a reality he was familiar with. He stuck with Indiana via its G League affiliate team, though, and there he proved that he could be an asset for the organization.

He averaged 16.5 points and 7.5 assists per game for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, and with the Pacers in need of point guard help two months into the season, they turned to Sykes. He knew the system, and he had professional experience.

That’s when Sykes’ dream came true. He backed up Caris LeVert, and he was in the Pacers rotation making his NBA debut in late December of 2021. Two nights later, he scored his first points against the Chicago Bulls, the closest team to his childhood home.

Sykes had another challenge to face, though. His contract was non-guaranteed and wouldn’t become fully guaranteed until January 7 at 5 p.m. Eastern Time. He had just over one week to prove that he should stay with the blue and gold for the rest of the season.

“The GM, he shook my hand and was like, ‘we signed you, but this is basically like a 10-day [contract]. Good luck’,” Sykes recalls. He was nervous in his first game and played too fast, but head coach Rick Carlisle helped him slow down and relax at halftime. From then on, Sykes was more calm. “I was confident. I was ready.”

He got a huge opportunity to prove himself when LeVert entered health and safety protocols on January 2. With the guard sidelined for 10 days, Sykes would be the starting floor general for the Pacers.

The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay product took full advantage. Over the course of his next three outings, he averaged 16.7 points and 5.3 assists per game while knocking down half of his shots. Indiana needed a steady hand at point guard, and Sykes provided it.

That was enough for the team to keep him around for the rest of the season. Sykes had his contract fully guaranteed for just over $550k on the seventh, and he remained with the Pacers until the final days of the season.

Assistant coach Jenny Boucek, who works with Indiana’s guards often, was the one to tell Sykes the news. “I was definitely nervous. You’re still never sure until you know,” Sykes recalled of the final day he could be cut. “It was so cool, because coach Jenny just believed in me so much… she came in and told me ‘congratulations’, and I kind of knew what she meant but I was shocked.”

Sykes continued to be a part of the team’s story that season. In 31 appearances for the blue and gold, he averaged 5.6 points and 1.9 assists per game. The Pacers struggled all season long, and they transitioned from one era to the next with a few major deals at the trade deadline. But Sykes stuck around and finally accomplished one of his lifelong goals. He made the NBA, and his Chicago-based family got to watch it all up close.

Now, he’s chasing that dream again and trying to reclaim a spot in the association. Last year, he signed with the Detroit Pistons just before training camp, but he was waived and spent the season playing for their G League squad. This summer, he has worked out for a few NBA franchises in the hopes of landing with a new team.

Depending on how this year goes, Sykes may go back overseas in his 30s. There are tons of opportunities for a player of his caliber around the globe. If he does return to a different continent, the Chicago native will be a much better, and more experienced, player than he was the last time he ventured abroad.

Wherever his playing days take him, Sykes hopes his basketball legacy won’t be defined by just his NBA career. He wants to remain in the sport in some capacity once retirement comes. “Transition into maybe coaching, maybe front office,” Sykes said of his thinking about his post-playing career. “I like how a lot of players are starting to get front office positions. Just continue to be studious and a professional and learn the game and be one of the brilliant NBA minds.”

Despite having to overcome obstacles, Sykes achieved his basketball goals with the Indiana Pacers. If he puts his mind to working for a team in the future, there’s no doubt he can accomplish his dreams again. He doesn’t know any other way.

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