In Saturday afternoon’s loss to Florida State, Pitt’s Nike Sibande finally broke out for the Panthers.
The 6-foot-4 senior guard, who transferred to Pitt from Miami Ohio earlier this year, dropped 12 points and seven rebounds in a season-high 35 minutes of play. After an injury to Au’Diese Toney just days before the game, Sibande was put into the starting lineup for just the fourth time on the season.
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“It was definitely interesting – just getting out there, getting more minutes, seeing things, and just getting a better rhythm,” Sibande said after the game. “I feel like if I just get into a rhythm I’ll be shooting the ball at a higher clip. It was good getting out there and get some good burn in with my guys.”
Sibande has had a roller-coaster of a year to say the least. The Indianapolis native chose Pitt during the summer, not knowing at the time whether or not he would be able to play. As transfers around the country received good news every day leading up to the season, Sibande was still waiting for word on his waiver. All of that in addition to COVID-related postponements for the team and missed games due to contact tracing for Sibande himself, it had been everything but an easy ride for Sibande.
On Dec. 16, just hours before tipoff against Miami, Sibande finally got the news. All transfers had been granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA, and he would now be able to contribute to the Panthers for the rest of the season.
Sibande scored three points in eight minutes in that first game against Miami, and has produced similar numbers in his games since then. While he only missed five games, the lack of game-action clearly caused the offensive flow to be a bit rusty once Sibande got back.
“It has had its ups and downs, but at the end of the day I know who I am and I know what I bring to the table,” he added. “So I just go into practice everyday and just try to go in there with the same mindset and just be a good piece of energy for everybody, give myself to the team, and let all of it work itself out. So, I’m just patient, and I am looking forward to just continuing to compete, to fight, and earn my way out here.”
In the recent matchup against Florida State, he showed his athleticism, driving ability, and confident stroke from outside, all things that were highly anticipated by Pitt fans ever since the guard committed to the program. With a strong performance like this in the late stages of Pitt’s season, many are now wondering whether or not Sibande would consider coming back to Pitt next year.
“I’ve definitely put a lot of thought into it,” he said about a potential return to Pitt next year. “If that is a thing that Coach wants me to do, then I’ll definitely take that into consideration. It’ll definitely be helpful because I had to sit out multiple games. Just seeing it from a third perspective, is just seeing the game in a whole other way. I never really had to do that besides my freshman year in high school. Seeing the game in a whole other way is helping me, helping me grow mentally and make smarter plays and see the game in a different way. It’s definitely been an interesting year for me for sure.”
While every Pitt player (and every NCAA player) has the option to return next year due to the NCAA’s rulings on eligibility, the Pitt roster may look very different next season. With no 2021 recruits signed yet, head coach Jeff Capel and his staff will likely look to the transfer portal to pick up some veteran targets. However, some Pitt players may leave too, whether it be Justin Champagnie to the NBA draft, or any of the other veterans to various professional options or other schools. For Sibande, he is going to take it day-by-day.
“I feel for him,” Capel said about Sibande. “I really, really do. He’s a good player, but his season has been so disjointed. I thought he did some really good things in the Florida State game and he’s a guy we think can help us as we go forward.”
If Sibande were to stay, a full offseason with the program plus not having to deal with transfer issues would be very beneficial to his development with the team. He obviously has the talent to play at this level. His best game came against one of the best, deepest teams in not just the ACC but also the entire nation. His playmaking ability off the bench would only help the Panthers, and at this point in time it appears that Sibande has stayed patient and learned a lot from his time in Pittsburgh.
For now, it is all just speculation, but keep an eye out for a decision from Sibande in the coming months after the season concludes.