February 10, 2010 12:48:00 PM
For much of the season, April Sykes'' shooting has been as cold as the frigid and snowy weather in Piscataway, N.J.
The 6-foot sophomore guard/forward on the Rutgers University women''s basketball team is shooting just 29 percent entering a home game tonight against Seton Hall.
Sykes, a 2008 graduate of East Oktibbeha High School in Crawford, has struggled of late, making 1 of 5 shots against South Florida on Saturday and missing all 10 of her attempts the previous game against Notre Dame.
But Rutgers Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer believes Sykes brings other qualities to the Scarlet Knights (13-10, 5-4 Big East Conference).
"She''s a phenomenal athletic," Stringer said. "I keep putting her out there because each time she does something incredible, whether it''s her ability to jump or her ability to handle the ball. She''s strong as I don''t know what."
Sykes is being given a chance to shoot her way out of her slump. She is second on the team with 185 field goal attempts.
Sykes is fifth on the team in scoring at 6.2 points per game, so she''s contributing on offense.
She has been more accurate at the free-throw line, making 21 of 29 attempts for 74 percent.
Stringer believes Sykes will rediscover the shooting touch that made her an All-State player and four-time Commercial Dispatch Player of the Year at East Oktibbeha.
"We have every confidence she''s going to have a breakout game," Stringer said. "I''m sure she expects more of herself, and we welcome that. She''ll be OK. She''s coming along. We''re pleased with her progress.
"You can put money on it that she can shoot. I really don''t know what to do other than encourage her. You just have to help her to be a little more comfortable so she can go out and shoot it like we see her shoot it every day in practice."
Stringer believes Sykes has to make a couple of adjustments in her preparation before she shoots and she''ll begin to find her range. Stringer noticed Sykes was stepping back on her shots, which is something that can be corrected.
Sykes admits she can do better and it''s a matter of not putting pressure on herself.
"It''s kind of like a job now," Sykes said. "I know I can shoot. I just have it in the back of my mind, ''Man I''ve got to make this shot, I''ve got to make this shot.''"
Stringer can remember past games when University of Connecticut center Tina Charles was taken out of games because of her shooting. Now a senior, Charles has developed into a first-team All-Big East selection.
Stringer believes Sykes can do the same thing.
Stringer said it''s a matter of Sykes adjusting to the level of play in one of the nation''s top conferences for women''s basketball.
"She''s had to make an adjustment that all young people have to do from high school to college," Stringer said. "This is a tough conference. This is a challenge for her and sometimes I think there is such a high level of expectations. I think the thing people forget to tell a young person like her is she is every bit as good as people think she is."
Sykes'' goal is to help the Lady Scarlet Knights finish the regular season strong and have a good showing in the Big East Tournament to earn a berth in the NCAA tournament.
"We have had our ups and downs, but it''s all right," Sykes said. "We''ve been working hard. It''s a challenge every day. We have a long road ahead of us. We''ve been working hard to get better."