Nike Sibande Bounces Back From ACL Tear to Guide Panthers Off the Bench
Growing up in Indianapolis, Nike Sibande found himself in a hotbed for big-time basketball. Home of the Pacers and a state covered in Indiana Hoosier red, Sibande is proud of where he came from. Appearing on the Just Buckets Podcast with Jamarius Burton, he explained his background, family, and love of the sport.
“It was definitely an interesting place to be,” Sibande said. “I love my city. They show a lot of love and support. I grew up on the west side of Indianapolis a Pacers fan… they [Indiana] love their basketball. We take pride in it. That’s what made me want to get into basketball.”
A 23-year-old redshirt senior guard, Sibande has an older brother and two older sisters, one that he took inspiration from to play basketball at a high level after previously playing quarterback in football.
“She played basketball her whole life,” Sibande said “I used to always go to her games and watch her. Sit back and watch how the game goes, putting it together, learning it. It was interesting to me. I loved it.”
Sibande took inspiration from his mother and her love for him throughout life as an aspiring athlete.
“My whole life I was with my mother,” Sibande said. “That’s my love. She always believed in me and helped me out with everything I needed. I grew up in a poverty-stricken environment like most other people. My mom always put that battery in my back and believed in me to be the one to make it out.”
He stated how he went to gyms practically every day with his friends and fell in love with it in middle school. Sibande played for George Hill’s AAU team and starred at Crispus Attucks High School. His breakthrough came during junior year when Sibande said he averaged 17 points per game, which improved to 22 points and 7.2 rebounds his senior year. Sibande’s senior season was one for the ages, finishing 25-4 and winning the Indiana 3A state championship at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“We ended up locking in that whole year,” Sibande said. “It was crazy. Everything fell right into place. We ended up winning 20 games, more than 20. Only losing a couple of games. It was a dog fight the whole year, especially in the state tournament run.
“It felt so surreal how it happened. We ended up winning stats off a buzzer-beater… it was a crazy game and a great experience. I wouldn’t trade that for nothing.”
Following his high school career, Sibande remained playing AAU ball and thought about attending school in Florida. Interest from the Miami RedHawks changed his mind.
“I was actually about to go to IMG Academy,” Sibande said. “I ended up playing for a couple of weeks. Miami (Ohio) and head coach Jack Owens reached out to me, and I made the decision to go there. It was an immediate decision when he called me. This is what I want to do.”
Sibande was named MAC Freshman of the Year after starting all 34 games during the 2017-18 season, averaging 15.1 points and 4.3 rebounds. He averaged 16.1 points and 5.1 rebounds the following year, being named All-MAC Third Team. 2019-20 was another solid season for Sibande, who after his junior year opted to reach a higher level of competition. Entering the transfer portal during the heart of the pandemic, Sibande heard from schools including Alabama, Georgia, and Kentucky.
“I want to play against the best competition on a consistent basis,” Sibande said. “A lot of different people reached out.”
He did not get a chance to visit Pitt, but through good communication with head coach Jeff Capel found himself comfortable becoming a Panther. In 14 games, eight starts, during the Covid-shortened season, Sibande averaged 6.9 points and 3 rebounds while shooting a team-best 43.6% from behind the arc. Returning for a fifth year, Sibande tore his ACL in an exhibition game against Gannon and missed the entire 2021-22 campaign.
“I looked at it like a mental test,” Sibande said. “God puts his toughest battles on his toughest soldiers. I went into it with that mindset. I wasn’t granted eligibility when practically every in the country did. It was frustrating… I just wanted to play.
“I learned a lot, grew up a lot watching the game from the sideline perspective,” Sibande said. “I never really had to sit back and see the game from that point of view.”
Now in his final season of eligibility, Sibande is averaging 7.6 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. On the road facing Louisville, Sibande connected on four-straight triples and drew the attention of Cardinals head coach Kenny Payne. He is shooting 32% from deep in 28 games, coming off the bench in all but one to be a sparkplug on both ends.
When his episode of Just Buckets was released on Nov. 23, 2022. Sibande exclaimed, “I feel like we’re going to shock a lot of people.” In control of their own destiny entering senior night Saturday against Syracuse, the Panthers have done just that and have found an identity. Sibande has learned a lot and experienced much during his life and basketball journey, keeping the faith that athletes and people can recover from whatever the world throws at them.
“Don’t give up, don’t give up on yourself,” Sibande said. “If you have a dream, chase your dream. There are going to be obstacles along your journey. People think it’s just going to be granted to you. You have to earn it… Don’t ever shy away from the world. Listen.”
Pitt will be honoring Sibande, as well as Nelly Cummings, Jamarius Burton, Greg Elliott, and Aidan Fisch on Saturday night. To read about their careers at Pitt, click the links below.
Jamarius Burton’s Senior Night: A Bittersweet Farewell in Front of Family and Fans
I’m really going to miss this group of guys.
Agreed- they play the type of basketball that just draws you in. Unselfish, with a swagger, and seem like a great group of guys!
Thanks Nike for coming back to complete the rebuild! Nike has always been one of my favorite PITT Panthers. He brings tremendous energy to this team and has been a huge part of the team’s success!!