Nike Sibande didn’t go home to Indianapolis this summer. Instead, he flew to Boston and Oklahoma City.
Sibande declared for the NBA Draft in early April and spent much of the next two months exploring his professional options. He worked out for the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder before choosing to return to Miami for his junior season in late May.
After that, he just got to work.
“From the moment we got that week break after our season ended, that’s when it all started,” the 6-foot-4 guard said. “It’s like, ‘Come on. Let’s go. Let’s push.’”
Last season, Sibande averaged 16.1 points per game and shot 39 percent from the field. He became the first sophomore in Miami history to reach 1,000 career points.
But, with bigger dreams than Oxford, Ohio, Sibande spent the summer using the feedback the NBA teams gave him to take his game to the next level. Sibande said he had never experienced anything like walking into those NBA facilities and meeting the coaches.
“It was just amazing, man. Felt surreal,” Sibande said. “It made me eager to learn more. It made me more hungry and switched my mindset.”
The assessments he received were positive. The teams loved his athleticism and his shot. The Celtics’ Brad Stevens, a coach world-renowned for his outstanding defenses, told Sibande he admired the RedHawk’s talent on that side of the court.
“That’s what I want to hang my hat on,” Sibande said.
They also provided Sibande with some aspects of his skillset to enhance. The coaches want Sibande to better utilize his superb athleticism — he has a 48.5-inch running vertical leap — on both sides of the court while also becoming a more vocal leader. He said, in the past, he was often just playing basketball without thinking of being a talkative teammate.
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Sibande said he wants to be better at helping his team through adversity, calming his teammates when they hit rough patches. He wants to get out of his own mind and concentrate on helping others perform at their highest levels, too.
After returning to Oxford, Sibande teamed up with assistant coach Kenneth Lowe, a former Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year at Purdue, to improve. He was often in the gym multiple times a day.
“We would just do a lot of one-on-one stuff,” Sibande said. “A lot of offense, putting up shots, defense, contested finishing, next-level stuff. Stuff that I needed to work on.”
Off the practice court, Sibande wanted to up his basketball IQ. He watched film of players like Donovan Mitchell, CJ McCollum, Bradley Beal and himself.
“I can see it,” Sibande said. “I really watched their games, and then, when I go out there, I’ve watched it so much, now, I feel like I can do the same exact stuff that they’re doing. I feel like I take pieces from different players’ games and just try to make it my own.”
After all his work, Sibande made a promise for this season.
“It’s going to be a good one.”