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UC Merced Mourns Passing of John Sykes

Men's Basketball •  November 3, 2020

MERCED, Calif. - It is with heavy hearts that we mourn the loss of UC Merced's first ever head men's basketball coach, John Sykes. Sykes passed earlier this week as confirmed by his family.


Sykes, a Merced native, was at the helm of the Bobcats from 2011-15. Laying the foundation for the program, Sykes also coached the club team for two years prior to UC Merced joining the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.


"I was saddened by the news of John's passing, Executive Director of Recreation & Athletics Dave Dunham said. "As one of our founding coaches, we are grateful for his energy, time and passion he devoted to the program. It was a pleasure to work with John and see his energy for the game and his kindness. He will always be a Bobcat."


Sykes' time with the Bobcats was highlighted by a solid 2012-13 campaign, in which he led UC Merced to a 7-3 California Pacific Conference record and a postseason victory. While the postseason victory was a department first, he also coached the Bobcats to the school's first ever Top 25 win (71-70 in OT vs. Cal Maritime).


Sykes mentored five All-Cal Pac selections, including 2013 Cal Pac Player of the Year and NAIA Third Team All-American Aki Chambers. Members from his inaugural team still hold countless school records. Sykes' squad also achieved success off the court and one of his first ever players, Daniel Castillo, earned the department's highest yearly honor with the Bobcat Award in 2012.


After stepping down following the 2014-15 season, Sykes remained a frequent visitor to campus and recently coached the alumni team during the annual men's basketball alumni game.


Sykes first gained coaching experience as an assistant at nearby Golden Valley High School. He also served as an assistant coach at Merced College from 1999-2004 as well as brief stints at Modesto Junior College and Stanislaus State.


UC Merced's first ever men's basketball coach played high school basketball at Merced High School before playing collegiately at University of Texas at Austin (1985-86) and Cal State Fullerton (1987-90). After college, Sykes played professionally in Peru, the Netherlands, Mexico & Canada. In 2016, Sykes was inducted into the Merced High School Hall of Fame.


Known to be one of his proudest playing moments, Sykes and Cal State Fullerton defeated powerhouse UNLV at the buzzer on February 9, 1989.


Sykes, who was big on his faith and helping his community, is survived by his sons John & Joshua, and daughter Reina. He also has a grandchild, Jeremiah. Sykes was 53 years old. Information regarding services is TBD.

Men's and women's 2020-21 basketball seasons to start on Thanksgiving week

The Division I Council approved moving the first contest date in Division I men’s and women’s basketball to Nov. 25 for the 2020-21 season.


No exhibition games or closed scrimmages will be allowed before that date. Moving the start date back from Nov. 10 is intended to have contests begin when at least three-quarters of Division I schools will have concluded their fall terms or moved remaining instruction and exams online, creating a more controlled and less populated campus environment that may reduce the risk of COVID-19 that can occur between student-athletes and the broader student body population, the Division I Men’s and Women’s Oversight Committees said.


The maximum number of contests was reduced by four, given that the season will start 15 days later than originally scheduled. In men’s basketball, teams can schedule 24 regular-season games and participate in one multiple-team event that includes up to three games; 25 regular-season games and participate in one multiple-team event that includes up to two games; or 25 regular-season games if a team does not participate in a multiple-team event.


In women’s basketball, teams can schedule 23 regular-season games and participate in one multiple-team event that includes up to four games or schedule 25 regular-season games if a team does not compete in a multiple-team event.


Teams will meet sport sponsorship requirements and be considered for NCAA championship selection if they play 13 games, which represents a 50 percent reduction of the current minimum. For NCAA championship consideration, all 13 games must be against another Division I opponent.  The Division I Men's Basketball and Division I Women's Basketball committees also recommended teams play a minimum of four nonconference games.


“The new season start date near the Thanksgiving holiday provides the optimal opportunity to successfully launch the basketball season,” said NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt. “It is a grand compromise of sorts and a unified approach that focuses on the health and safety of student-athletes competing towards the 2021 Division I basketball championships.”


Programs can began preseason practice and will have 42 days to conduct a maximum of 30 practices. During this time, players can work out up to 20 hours per week, four hours per day, and must have one day off per week. This model is generally consistent with the normal preseason practice period but permits additional flexibility for all teams to began full practice on Oct. 14, regardless of when their first scheduled game occurs.


Council members also approved a transition practice period between current out-of-season activities and preseason practice. This transition period is designed to provide additional time for players to prepare for the upcoming season based on the mental and physical challenges basketball players are facing as a result of the pandemic. The transition period occur red Sept. 21-Oct. 13, and teams may participated in strength and conditioning activities, sport-related meetings and skill instruction for up to 12 hours a week, with an eight-hour limit on skill instruction. Players must have two days off per week during the transition period.


While the waiver process exists for schools to request to play games prior to the Nov. 25 start date, the Division I Men’s Basketball Oversight Committee and Division I Women’s Basketball Oversight Committee have indicated they are unlikely to support such waivers.

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