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Naz guard Brianna Sidney commits to UNC

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Brianna Sidney could have been nervous. Cynthia Cooper-Dyke was someone the Queens native has looked up to since childhood.

“I love the way she plays,” Sidney said. “She inspires me.”

Cooper-Dyke, the second-year coach at UNC-Wilmington, never gave Sidney a chance to be apprehensive. One of the most decorated players in the history of women’s basketball, Cooper-Dyke was just like any other coach, Sidney said — only better.

“That’s the funny thing about it,” Sidney said. “She made me feel comfortable, especially because she is so down-to-earth.”

The presence of Cooper-Dyke and the family-like atmosphere with the Seahawks sold the 5-foot-10 Nazareth guard immediately. Sidney verbally committed to UNC-Wilmington during her visit there Sunday. She was also considering LaSalle, Memphis, Towson, Rhode Island and Albany.

UNC-Wilmington is coming off 24 wins and its first-ever postseason berth in the WNIT. Cooper-Dyke was named CAA Coach of the Year in her first season.

“As soon as I got to the campus and saw their workout, I saw a perfect fit and I wanted to be a part of what they are trying to do,” Sidney said.

Before the year started, the coach was named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Cooper-Dyke led the Houston Comets to four straight WNBA championships and was named WNBA Finals MVP four times. She was the league most valuable player in 1997 and 1998 and a four-time all-star.

“Cynthia Cooper is the perfect coach to take her to that next level and Bre is ready for the challenge,” Nazareth Assistant Coach Lauren Best said.

Athletic and long, Sidney is also one of the country’s best three-point shooters when she gets going. Nazareth was almost unbeatable in its run to the New York State Federation Class AA title last year if she was making her shots. At times, Coach Apache Paschall would try to get Sidney open looks early, because if she makes one, she could make four just as easily.

“She’s a fearless shooter,” one Division I assistant coach said. “Her length and work ethic will help her contribute in a major way at that level.”

Sidney doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed as just a shooter, though. Cooper-Dyke gave her all the right answers when they spoke about her future role.

“She said I can see the court well and that I would be taught to handle the ball a little more and get a crossover just like hers,” Sidney said with a laugh.

The biggest thing Cooper-Dyke and the coaching staff did was make Sidney feel at home. She has been around her family throughout high school — her sisters Elon and Jelleah both played with her at St. Michael Academy before that school closed and her mother Annarie is omnipresent at her games. Her Exodus travel program has also been like a family to her. She’s been with Paschall and Best since she was 9 years old, the longest tenured player with Exodus other than current WNBA player Kia Vaughn.

“They all get along and everyone looks after each other as if they are really family,” Sidney said. “Also with me being so far away from home, seeing how they reminded me of when I am at home was the best thing.”

She couldn’t have been any less nervous being in the company of one of her idols. Now Sidney will be playing for her.

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