Nigel Sydnor has never been one to shy away from a challenge.
Coming out of middle school, BCL powers Calvert Hall and Mount St. Joseph recruited Sydnor, but he chose MIAA B Conference bottom-feeder St. Paul’s. Sydnor entered high school as a power forward and center, but the Crusaders needed a point guard, so Sydnor became a 1.
Picking a college was no different for the 6-foot-2, 210-pound point guard, who spent the past year at Marianapolis Preparatory School in Thompson, Conn. Fresno State, Iona, Northern Colorado, Saint Peter’s, Tennessee Tech and Texas State expressed interest in Sydnor, but on Wednesday the post-grad prospect signed with the New Jersey Institute of Technology – a Division I program since 2006 that lost 51 straight games from 2007-08. For Sydnor, the opportunity to be part of a new program still searching for success was too much to pass up.
“When I was coming out of middle school, I wanted to go to a program where I could really have an impact, feel like I was really part of something. That’s what St. Paul’s was for me,” Sydnor said. “The year before I got there, they won just three games. The year after, we won 15. The year after that, we won 20. Junior year we won the championship. Senior year we lost in the semifinals. I find myself enjoying being a part of a program that hasn’t been established, a program in its infancy. [I like the thought of] going somewhere that’s not already established, and being one of those guys that got the program going.”
St. Paul’s coach Seth Goldberg saw firsthand the positive effect Sydnor can have on a team. Goldberg aided Sydnor’s transition to point guard, which was simplified by the future Highlander’s basketball IQ and his physical strength. Skill development was Goldberg’s top priority with Sydnor, and by junior year the hard work had paid off with the Crusaders’ MIAA B Conference championship and an all-conference selection.
“The best thing I can say about Nigel is he’s got the rare skill of knowing how to make everybody better around him,” Goldberg said. “He understands what it means to be a great teammate, a great leader. He’s as strong and physical a player as I’ve ever coached. It just allows him to get to the rim and push the ball as well as any point guard I’ve seen.”
Sydnor, who was a repeat All-MIAA B Conference selection as a senior, graduated from St. Paul’s last spring with no Division I offers. Having largely spurned the AAU circuit to focus on his game individually in the gym, Sydnor’s exposure was limited. North Florida offered him a scholarship in August, but by then, he was already set on doing a year of prep school.
Marianapolis afforded Sydnor – a full NCAA qualifier coming out of high school – plenty of opportunities to work on his game and play in front of college coaches.
“[We would] wake up at 6 in the morning and lift weights,” Sydnor said. “After school, we would have workouts. Then after the team workouts, after dinner we would do open gym. Then at night, we would just do skill workouts [and] get up shots. The prep experience worked out for me because the gaps in my schedule allowed me to put in as much work as I wanted to.”
The NJIT staff actually discovered Sydnor at a Hoop Group camp before he started prep school. The coaches stayed in touch and offered him a scholarship about a month into his Marianapolis tenure. Sydnor averaged around 20 points, nine assists and five rebounds for Marianapolis, which lost to Vermont Academy in the first round of the New England Preparatory Schools Athletic Conference playoffs. Throughout the season, the NJIT coaches followed Sydnor’s every move.
“The coaches were nothing but loyal and honest with me the whole year,” Sydnor said. “I’ve [visited] there about four times. I went again just last week. The coaches are great guys. … Personally, I think we’re a program on the rise. Coach [Jim] Engles has been there six years. This year’s recruiting class is pretty solid.”
Sydnor said it felt “great to be on someone’s ‘A’ list.” The Highlanders staff expects him to challenge for the starting point guard spot from Day One and be a prolific scorer and team leader. Sydnor said he can’t wait to help NJIT – which went 15-17 last season – complete its building process.
“It’s a great feeling that I’m going to a program with coaches I can trust, a great academic situation and it just feels good to have that pressure off my family for having to pay for my college,” he said. “It’s just a great feeling.”