Sykes Declares For Draft; Preds Return Home; Orlando City Opens On Road


    By J.C. Carnahan


    If you had a chance to catch a UCF men’s basketball game this past season you already know how valuable Isaiah Sykes has been to the program.


    And you likely fell short of breath upon hearing the news Wednesday that the multi-dimensional junior guard was planning to test the NBA waters by declaring for the league’s upcoming draft in June.


    Luckily for UCF fans though, it appears Sykes will maintain his NCAA eligibility while merely seeking advice on his draft status through the NBA’s undergraduate advisory committee. He has until April 16 to decide whether to stay in school or test his NBA Draft luck.


    I personally don’t see Sykes leaving town just yet. Not after a season in which the All-Conference USA First Team and C-USA All-Defensive Team honoree messed around and got two triple-doubles while averaging 16 points, 7.5 Rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.3 steals per game.


    Sykes was so impressive this season that he became the first player in C-USA history to finish in the Top 10 in points, rebounds, assists and steals in league play. He currently ranks No. 16 in scoring (1,030), ninth in rebounding (547) and ninth in steals (132) in UCF history.


    But like most NBA hopefuls, Sykes still has room to improve before making such a leap. Finding out how pro teams view his potential entering his senior season should help keep him on the minds of pro scouts when they get back to evaluating their team needs around this time next year.


    UCF coach Donnie Jones told me a few weeks ago in an interview on 810 AM’s EK Sports that he expects to see Sykes mature into a more consistent shooter from both the field and free throw line.


    Sykes will also be looked upon to step into the team’s leadership role vacated by the graduation of forward Keith Clanton, and that can only add more value to his draft stock down the road.


    Predators Host Philadelphia In Home Opener


    The first two weeks of the 2013 Arena Football League season looks a whole lot like the last for the Orlando Predators.


    For things to change this Saturday the new-look Preds (0-2) must get past the Philadelphia Soul (0-1) in their first home game of the season at the Amway Center at 7:30 p.m.


    The game will serve as a reunion for new Preds coach Doug Plank, who led the Soul to an ArenaBowl berth in 2012 and will be facing many of the same players that made up that runner-up squad.


    The Preds lost in the final seconds for the second week in a row this past weekend, 65-62, as quarterback Kyle Rowley was again picked off on the game’s final play against San Jose.


    Rowley is in his first year under center in Orlando. He’s completed just 54 percent of his passes for 14 touchdowns with five interceptions.


    The SaberCats took the lead for good on a kick return for a touchdown with 35 seconds left in the game. Amarri Jackson was named AFL Playmaker of the Week after finishing with 12 receptions for 209 yards and five touchdowns in the loss.


    Orlando City Suffers Huge Setback Before Opener


    Before the USL Pro season could even get underway for the Orlando City Soccer Club, the Lions had already suffered its first big loss.


    Orlando City starting goalkeeper and team captain Miguel Gallardo has been sidelined for up to six weeks after undergoing knee surgery following an injury sustained during a training session.


    That leaves the Lions to rely on Jon Kempin in goal on Sunday as Orlando City opens the season on the road at 10:30 p.m. against the expansion Phoenix FC. Kempin is on loan from the MLS’s Sporting Kansas City.


    With Gallardo sidelined, the Lions signed former backup keeper Sean Kelley, who took over for Gallardo when he was issued a red card in the 2011 championship game and made four appearances with Orlando City in 2012.


    Gallardo was named USL Pro Goalkeeper of the Year during the team’s championship season two years ago. He led the league in goals against average last season.