But he said that potential accomplishment pales in comparison to the one the former Marshall Metropolitan High School star guard experienced May 16 — when he graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
And what made it more special was he shared the graduation stage with fellow Chicago-area natives and Green Bay hoopsters Al McKinnie, also a Marshall graduate, and Crete-Monee H.S. alums Greg Mays and Josh Humphrey.
"I would be proud to get drafted, but the biggest accomplishment was getting my degree," said the South Chicago native, who earned a diploma in communications. "That's something that will never be taken away from me.
"In Chicago, a lot of people and families usually come together for something bad, so it was great having my family all come together for my graduation," Sykes added. "Being from Chicago, we had a lot of things in common. It was easy for us to go through ups and downs of college together; it just made our bond grow stronger."
McKinnie and Mays — both forwards — also graduated with degrees in communications and are looking at pro hoops options, likely overseas. Humphrey, whose degree is in business with a minor in economics, said he had more than a dozen job offers before he graduated. The former guard starts work as a financial manager at Bergstrom Automotive in Appleton, Wisconsin, on July 1.
Humphrey grew up playing basketball in the Sonny Parker Youth Foundation in gyms in Washington Park, Homan Square and Garfield Park. He attended Hales Franciscan on the South Side before transferring to Crete-Monee for his final two seasons of prep ball. He said while basketball played a huge part in his life, it always took a backseat to academics, especially when he tore the labrum in his left shoulder and had a micro-fracture injury in his left knee while at Green Bay.
"There are so many guys that don't even get their degrees," Humphrey said. "I know guys who play for four years and they still don't get their degree. When I graduated, it was surreal; I had been looking forward to it for so long."
The graduation rate for white players of the 68 teams who made the men's basketball NCAA tournament was 93 percent — but 69 percent for African-American players, according to data from the NCAA and the University of Central Florida.
McKinnie, a North Lawndale native, said it was extremely important he graduated with Mays, Sykes and Humphrey, who all started their Green Bay tenures in 2011. He joined them three seasons ago after transferring from Eastern Illinois.
"We were a tight-knit group, and all the hard work [in the classroom] finally paid off," said McKinnie, who hopes to be a coach or work with an organization with kids like the YMCA after playing ball. "I clicked with those guys right off the bat, and we all had it in our mind that we wanted to finish our careers together and graduate together."
As a group, Mays, Sykes and Humphrey won 81 career games and reached the Horizon League tournament championship game this past season. The man who recruited them and McKinnie, Green Bay assistant Chrys Cornelius, said the foursome was able to use basketball instead of the other way around.
"A lot of kids let the game use them, and they have nothing to show for it," said Cornelius, who also was all four players' academic coach. "When you recruit kids, the No. 1 feeling you can have is watching them graduate."
Cornelius fully expects Sykes to be drafted on Thursday. Since mid-May, the two-time Horizon League player of the year has worked out with "half of the NBA," including the Lakers, Spurs, Celtics, Thunder, Rockets and Mavericks, Sykes said. His final predraft workout is Tuesday with the Clippers.
"It's been a whirlwind," said Sykes, who's projected to be a second-round pick.
When asked if he'll be selected, Sykes first said "yes" before adding, "well, I just hope so."
Sykes understands he's in the extreme minority of players who have a chance to make an NBA roster. He also realizes his playing career will end and so he's also focusing on utilizing his degree to get into public speaking and film production.
And he quests to set an example for other Chicago kids to prove there is more to life than hoops and hardwood.
"I was a CPS student, [and] I'm the first in my family to graduate, and that's made a lot of people proud." Sykes said. "It's for the whole city of Chicago to see four guys from Chicagoland stick together as well as use basketball to get a degree. It gives people something to look up to outside of basketball."
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