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Keifer Sykes’ story from Chicago to the EuroLeague became also a movie

21/01/2020
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Keifer Sykes was born on December 30th, 2018, in Avellino. Not in a literal sense, of course, but as a successful pro player. After leaving the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay – the city in the American Midwest, where the local religion is football -, undrafted, Sykes began his professional career in South Korea and eventually moved to the Turkish second league. In Avellino, he was signed to spell Norris Cole, who had won two NBA championships in Miami. But in December of 2019, Cole asked to leave Italy in order to play the EuroLeague with Buducnost. Sykes went from being a bench player to starting and responded by scoring 44 points in two consecutive games. In the wake of these two games, on December 30th, 2018, he scored 31 points against Olimpia. A star was born that day.

Nick Budabin, a New York director and film producer, was in Chicago in 2010 to do a series dedicated to the 25th season of the Oprah Winfrey TV show. In those months, passionate about basketball, Boudabin found out about an effervescent basketball high school scene, populated by great stories, set in dangerous places, at the intersection of sports and life. This was how he came up with the idea of ​​a documentary film focused on some attractive Chicago players. One of them was supposed to be Keifer Sykes, who was a senior at Marshall High School.

After some reflections, Budabin decided to focus only on him and to follow him for the next five years during his attempt to reach the NBA. Sykes was a perfect subject: he was charismatic little point-man, with prodigious jumping ability, followed by his teammates (including Alonzo McKinnie who is in the NBA now), the youngest of eighth children, and father of Keifer jr since he was 16 (the kid is now playing for one of the Olimpia youth teams). “From the beginning, he was able to express himself genuinely and with true honesty,” Budabin told the Chicago Tribune when the docufilm “Chi-Town” was acclaimed at numerous film festival, including the one in Turin. (Here you can watch the official trailer)

The film accompanied Sykes through the last year of his high school career and eventually during the four years he spent in Wisconsin-Green Bay, which ended with a degree in communication, a marriage, the subsequent birth of his daughter, Kennedy, his great college career (in 2013/14, UWGB finished 24-5 including an historical win over Virginia, the number 1 team in the ranking at the time, with 21 points and 10 assists by Sykes), his attempts to land in the NBA, attending summer and winter camps in Miami, Golden State and at San Antonio, where he met Coach Ettore Messina. But there were not only more or less beautiful moments to accompany the story: in 2012, Sykes lost his father due to a heart attack, a childhood friend was arrested, and another one was paralyzed during a random shooting.

In the two years following the end of filming, as mentioned, Sykes played in Korea, Turkey, in Avellino, then went to China where he scored 50 points in a game, his personal best that exceeded the 43 points that he scored with Avellino in BCL against Banvit. And finally, he’s in Milan, in the EuroLeague which might  not be the NBA, but is the closest thing to it you can find in the world of basketball. This is where the Sykes’ story is really amazing.