March 18, 2015
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
– Sydney Wallace would give anything for one more shot Thursday night when Georgia Tech opens WNIT play, taking on Elon at McCamish Pavilion (tip-off is set for 7 p.m.).
Realistically, however, she’s pretty much known that wasn’t going to happen since Dec. 29, when, only seconds after scoring her 1,000th career point, and before the end of the first half, she tore the ACL in her knee.
Still, come Thursday night and every ensuing game in Tech’s postseason run, Wallace will be where she’s been since the second half of that game — on the bench, alongside her teammates. She wouldn’t be anyplace else.
“I feel like it was very important for me to be on the bench and supporting my teammates even though I couldn’t play,” she said. “Cheering them on, giving the younger players feedback. I was able to keep their spirits high, give them advice, talk to them. I thought it was important to be on the bench and stay positive throughout. I feel like the best way to do that was to be around my teammates and show that I’m there to support them. Having a positive attitude can get you through anything.”
It got her through the ACC season, including Senior Day, where she was the lone senior.
That feeling of team-first is pure Sydney, according to the people that know her best, her mom, Gillian, and her dad, Mark, who stood proudly beside their oldest daughter on Senior Day.
“I think it’s good therapy for her because basketball is her love,” said Gillian. “The fact that she can be there with her teammates, even though she’s not on the court, just for moral support. And she’s still learning. As she’s sitting there on the sidelines she’s still advancing in the game.”
“It means a lot also for her team, for her teammates, to see that although she couldn’t play, that she is still very much involved in what they do day-to-day,” said Mark. “She wants to be that emotional leader on the sideline that she can’t be on the court. There are different ways to contribute. This is the way she has found a way to continue to contribute although she’s not able to play.”
Sydney’s selflessness inspired her teammates on Senior Day, when the Jackets defeated No. 16/17 Duke, 91-82, the first win over the Blue Devils in the MaChelle Joseph era and the first in 37 tries against their nemesis from Durham.
“It meant everything,” said All-ACC first-team guard Kaela Davis. “It was her night, and she couldn’t play. We just put it all out there on the floor and just let her know we were going to get the win for her. She couldn’t play, so it was up to us to get the job done.”
“I know it had to be hard for Syd, because I’m looking at Sydney Wallace, and I’m thinking, `This is not the way this is supposed to end,'” said Joseph. “This is a kid who put us on our back and led us to the Sweet 16. She still holds records for most threes made in an NCAA Tournament. She was the fire and ice with Kaela and I felt like this year her senior leadership was going to be so important to this team. Both on the floor and off the floor. To lose her and to watch her have to watch her team struggle at times, because we don’t have that senior person on the floor has been really tough.”
Adding to the disappointment was that Wallace was in the midst of her best season. She was playing 30.9 minutes and scoring 13.1 points per game, both career-bests (she’d never averaged better than 9.8 ppg), and was having her best shooting year from the field (.434), from three (.362) in three years and from the line (.810). She even grabbed more rebounds (2.62 rpg) than in any season.
Peak Sydney in this post-season would have been something to see, as post-season has always been her time of year. She has Georgia Tech’s top two scoring games (32, 28), and field goals made (12, 11), and two of the top four shooting percentage games (.846, .545) all three set six days apart in the 2012 Tournament. She has two of the top three games in field goals attempted (22, shared with Brigitte Ardossi), and the top three games in three-point field goals made (8, 6, and 5, all three set in that six-day span in `12), and attempted (14, 13, 12).
“Around this time it’s always a fun and exciting time for your team, just seeing all the different teams that you could possibly play against,” she said. “It’s just a really fun time of the year.”
Wallace had the most fun in 2012. Coming off the bench, the freshman almost single-handedly shot the Yellow Jackets into the Sweet 16. She led the Jackets in scoring all three games, going for 27.7 ppg (83 points), on 58.2 shooting (32-for-55), 55.9 from three (19-for-34). She scorched Sacred Heart in the first round (28 points on 11-for-13, 6-for-8 from three), keyed Georgia Tech’s upset of Georgetown (23, 9-for-20, 5-for-14), and carried the team in the loss to Brittney Griner and eventual champion Baylor (32, 12-for-22, 8-for-12).
“My freshman year when we went to the Sweet 16 was something that I’ll never forget,” she said. “I can’t even describe the feeling, the emotion. It was my first time playing in a big-time college league and going that far and being able to defeat significant teams, was really memorable.”
While the 83-68 loss to Baylor hurt, Wallace will never forget the experience.
“I get really pumped up for those types of games. It was on national TV, I knew it was playing against Brittney Griner,” she said. “I was like, `I’m just going to go out and give everything I’ve got and see what happens.’ I was just determined. I was excited to just have that opportunity and be in that spotlight. So I just took advantage.”
Wallace, who tied for the team lead in scoring in her only other NCAA Tournament game, last year against LSU, is taking that experience and passing it on to her current teammates.
Of course, the Jackets are still holding out hope that the WNIT won’t be the last time Wallace is at McCamish Pavilion as a player. They’re hoping the NCAA grants her a medical redshirt for the 2014-15, allowing her to play next season.
“She didn’t play in any ACC games,” said Joseph. “We’re really hoping the NCAA will see here is a student-athlete that has done everything right. She graduated in four years from Georgia Tech, one of the nation’s top academic institutions and she wants an opportunity to finish what she’s started. She’s been a tremendous student-athlete. I hope they see it the way we see it.”
Regardless, Wallace has no regrets and is hardly finished with basketball. She’s determined to play pro.
“If the redshirt doesn’t come through I’m going to get back to 100 percent and just train as hard as I possibly can, maybe go overseas and see where it goes from there,” she said. “I know that this is not the end of my playing career and I’m ready to get back on the court. It’s just going to take a little patience.”
She’s also looking forward to the one day down the road that she knows she’s coming back to McCamish Pavilion, May 2, the day of Spring 2015 Commencement Exercises.
Mark and Gillian know they can’t wait.
“She’s getting her degree, she’s worked hard,” said Gillian. “She’s managed to balance both, playing basketball and being a student.”
“This day has been circled for quite a while,” said Mark. “We knew Senior Night was going to be against Duke. We thought that she would be playing, obviously. The next night that is circled is the one in May. That’s going to be another proud night as well.”
It’ll be a night that Sydney has longed for yet has a hard time admitting that it has arrived.
“I can’t believe that these four years went by that quickly,” she said. “Getting a degree from here is one of the main reasons I came to this school, besides basketball. I’m proud of myself, proud of the accomplishments. I’ve stayed committed to school, getting through what I needed to get through and I’m really excited to be able to graduate.”
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