On Thursday, Pitt shooting guard Nike Sibande made it clear that he plans to return to the Pitt men’s basketball team next season and take advantage of the additional minutes and larger role that are likely to come his way. Sibande had expressed interest in returning for another season in the past, but on Jeff Capel’s radio show, he left no doubt about his future plans.
“Me and Capel talked about it” Sibande said. “I think I’ll be coming back next year, for sure.”
During the interview, Sibande also said he is excited to have a full offseason and season to work with the Pitt staff. He was not granted either during the past year, as he transferred to Pitt in June and was ruled ineligible to play until the team’s fifth game. And if not for the NCAA’s Division I Council clearing all pending transfers to play back in December, Sibande might not have seen the court this season, as Miami (Ohio) refused to support his waiver.
Sibande is also excited for the opportunity to positively impact his young teammates, and he discussed that on Thursday as well.
“Knowing the group of guys I’ll be around, I know I can impact them in a way, too. I can really have a whole year to play and get out on the floor and do what I can do.”
Sibande, who is a senior, will be able to return for the 2021-22 season as a result of the NCAA offering an additional year of eligibility to all winter sport athletes due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the issues it has caused.
The Miami (Ohio) transfer recently saw an uptick in minutes when Au’Diese Toney missed Pitt’s matchup with Florida State on Feb. 20 with a concussion. Since then, Toney has left the program along with longtime Pitt point guard Xavier Johnson, and as a result, Sibande has been leaned on heavily by the team.
The change saw the 6’4”, 185-pound guard elevated from a bench role that netted him 11.1 minutes per game to a regular starting role that has seen him play 37.0 minutes per game over the Panthers’ last three contests. Those minutes have not been hollow either, as Sibande has used the additional court time to find his rhythm and has averaged 14.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game in the team’s last three games while shooting 37.5 percent from three-point range.
Sibande has also shown discipline in the Pitt backcourt, giving up the ball just 1.7 times per game and getting whistled for fouls just 1.3 times per game. That makes him an improvement over Toney, who averaged 2.7 turnovers and 3.3 fouls per game over his last three appearances. And Femi Odukale has lent a similar stability to the point guard role in Johnson’s stead, logging 1.3 giveaways and 2.3 fouls per game over his last three games to Johnson’s 4.3 turnovers and 4.3 fouls in his final trio of contests with the Panthers.
Thanks in part to the more disciplined play of Sibande and Odukale, Pitt was able to pull out of a five-game losing streak after the departures of Toney and Johnson, defeating Wake Forest 70-57 on Tuesday. In that game, Sibande hit the 20-point threshold for the first time in his Pitt career, contributing 23 points, nine rebounds and four steals and showing flashes of the version of himself that became a star in Ohio. Now, it appears he will take a shot at a similar star turn in Pittsburgh.