Candace Sykes did not enjoy her early-season suspension from the Illinois State women’s basketball team one bit. Yet Sykes does not dispute one crucial detail.
“I deserved it,” said the Redbird senior. “My behavior was not conducive to our team rules. It was deserved but not wanted.”
Sykes was hit with a disciplinary suspension before the season started and did not play in ISU’s first two games. She has returned to average 13.0 points and 5.2 rebounds in 21 games entering today’s 7:05 p.m. game against Southern Illinois at SIU Arena in Carbondale.
Redbird coach Stephanie Glance announced in late October Sykes had been “suspended indefinitely for behavior and choices that are detrimental to our team and the women’s basketball program at Illinois State.”
When Glance decided Sykes was ready to return to the roster, she allowed her players to vote on whether Sykes should be allowed back on the team.
“It seems like a long time ago when that happened,” Glance said. “It’s just in the past. I don’t think the players even talk about it.”
Sykes looks back at the turmoil as a learning experience.
“I felt like I wasn’t always positive before and encouraging like I should have been,” said Sykes. “It’s something I’ve focused on, being positive and talking to my teammates if I have something to say. If not, I’m just going with the flow.”
The St. Anne native eventually realized she did not want her college career to end under suspension.
“I really enjoy playing and my dad (Larry) enjoys seeing me play,” she said. “Especially my senior year it didn’t really make any sense to come all this way to just throw it away. I’m absolutely happy to be back.”
A condition of Sykes’ return was she would not start a game the entire season. Despite that, she still ranks third on the team in minutes played.
“That adjustment is a pretty easy thing to do,” she said. “You want to play to win the game. It doesn’t really matter who’s on the floor.”
The 5-foot-10 Sykes is uniquely talented in that she is the only player in ISU history to rank in the top 10 in both 3-pointers (ninth with 110) and blocked shots (tied for eighth at 59).
“To bring in that type of offensive firepower off the bench, that’s a pretty good weapon and teams have to prepare for that,” said Glance. “She’s a very versatile player. Our opponents don’t know if she’s coming in as a three or four.”
Southern struggles: The Salukis (4-17, 1-9) have a different coach since getting crushed by the Redbirds, 89-41, on Jan. 19.
After that game, head coach Missy Tiber resigned and assistant Adrianne Harlow took over.
“I wouldn’t say a lot of what they do offensively or defensively has changed,” Glance said. “It’s more her rotation has changed a little.”
ISU is 15-8 overall and in third place in the Missouri Valley Conference at 7-4.