Archdeacon: Path from Oxford to Pittsburgh pays off for former Miami standout Nike Sibande

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Good things come to those who wait.

It was a Heinz ketchup slogan in the 1980s.

And later it was a Sesame Street song featuring the Cookie Monster.

Late Tuesday night at UD Arena, that thought became the perfect frame for a beautiful picture that was being painted in the end-of-the-court stands — the Red Scare section on Flyers’ nights — following Pittsburgh’s thrilling 60-59 victory over Mississippi State in a battle of No. 11 seeds at the First Four.

Nike Sibande — the celebrated Pitt guard who had scored 1,465 points earlier in his career with the Miami RedHawks — had returned from the dressing room, still in his No. 22 uniform, and worked his way up into the seating area where he was being surrounded by more and more family members and friends.

Everyone from his grandparents, aunts and uncles to his mom and his fiancé, Monique, who is seven months pregnant with their son, flocked to him.

They took photos and hugged him. Some had tears spilling down onto their joyous smiles.

And Sibande took it all in like a sponge, never once turning away from a camera or a kiss.

Fifty feet away, a dozen guys in Pitt shirts stood along an Arena railing chanting his name:




Sibande was voted the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Sixth Man of the Year this season. And when he started his career at Miami, he was named the Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year.

Along the way he has earned the reputation as a prolific scorer and now has 1,852 career points — including 11 against Mississippi State — in the ledger.

But to Tracy Jones — Sibande’s mom who was with him up there in the stands Tuesday — he’s so much more than a bunch of impressive lines from an impressive resume.

“I call him my golden child,” she said with a quiet laugh. “He’s very strong-minded and determined. Always striving to do better. He wants to get as high as the Lord will take him.”

On this night — at this moment — he was higher than he’d ever been in his six-year college career.

He not only had provided the crucial points, the early spark off the bench and some veteran leadership down the stretch to help Pitt get its first victory in the NCAA Tournament in eight years, he had made this night “a testament to my up-and-down journey and how it all is about perseverance and continuing to fight and see things through.

“This has to be God finally rewarding me for that.

“And I can tell you, it feels amazing. Truly amazing.”

Starring three years at Miami, which has not had a winning season now in 15 years, he was on three teams that lost 54 of 98 games combined.

When he decided to transfer to Pitt in June 2020, Miami refused to sign his waiver. More than 100 players around the country had made such requests of their schools and only the RedHawks and six other programs declined.

ESPN reported Miami’s coach at the time, Jack Owens, and a Miami administrator said the decision was made because Sibonde had said on his petition that he was being forced out at Miami.

But when ESPN got access to the Sibande’s paperwork to the NCAA , it found he had not made any such comments.

Still, without the waiver, Sibande was not allowed to play until mid-December, when — because of COVID considerations — the NCAA approved a blanket waiver granting all players immediate eligibility for the 2020-21 season.

Sibande ended playing in 14 games and averaging 20 minutes and just under 7 points a game.

Last year he was expected to play a big part in the offense, but eight minutes into an exhibition game with Gannon, he banged knees with an opposing player and tore his ACL.

He missed all of last all of last season and in the meantime Pitt bolstered its guard corps with transfers and recruits..

He averaged 8.5 p.p.g. this season — scored in double figures 16 times — and helped get Pitt to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years.

“This means so much to the program and that’s why it means so much to me,” he said.

About that name

A courtside TV crew at the Arena Tuesday night was wondering on air about his unusual first name.

He explained it to me once when he played at Miami:

“My father named me because he really liked the brand. But growing up I was kind of insecure about it. I was like, ‘Dang! A lot of people are giving me lot of attention because of it.’ I didn’t like that.

“And if I didn’t turn out as gifted as I am, that would have been terrible having that name.

“But growing up I finally got used to it an embraced it.”

His mom talked about that Wednesday from her home in Indianapolis.

“With that name you better show up and show out while you’re out on the court,” she laughed .

And Sibande did.

As a senior at Crispus Attucks High in Indianapolis, he averaged 22 points a game and led the Tigers to their first Indiana state championship since Oscar Robertson led the team to crowns in 1955 and 1956

At Miami, Sibande started 95 of 97 games, won All-MAC honors twice and forged some lasting friendships. RedHawks teammate Dalonte Brown is still one of his best friends.

Before his last season at Miami, his girlfriend at the time gave birth to their daughter, Oaklynn, who will be 4 in September.

She lives in Indianapolis with her mom, but stays with his family — and him — regularly out of season.

“She knows what he does,” Tracy said. “She wears his jersey. She knows ‘Daddy, is a good basketball player.’”

Accomplishing the dream

Tuesday night a UD Arena crowd and a national TV audience came to the same conclusion.

Pitt coach Jeff Capel said he appreciates how Sibande has sacrificed some of the personal spotlight to help the team.

Sibande talked about that as he stood in the stands with his young nephew, Jeremiah, at his side.

“I’ve dreamed of the NCAA Tournament since I was a kid his age,” he said. “But there were times I wondered if it ever would happen. For a while this vision was pretty cloudy.”

He said he realized the best way to make it happen this season was to do whatever was asked of him:

“I try to help the team however I can, whether it’s scoring, rebounding, defense, going for a loose ball or just bringing energy.

“I think that’s the biggest thing I did tonight. I just added a spark.”

He hit two of three three-point attempts and his 11 points made him one of four Panthers in double figures.

Pitt now plays No. 5 seed Iowa State (19-13) this afternoon in Greensboro, N.C.

“Look, it was a tough journey to get her, but now that I’ve made, now that I’m finally in th NCAA Tournament, I’m just so thankful, so appreciative, and I want to keep writing the story. I think it could end up a pretty good one.”   It already has.

To paraphrase his mom:

It’s golden.

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