As we count down to the start of the basketball season, we’re going to be highlighting each member of the Syracuse basketball team. Today’s spotlight is on forward Rakeem Christmas.
Consider the cases of Arinze Onuaku, Rick Jackson and Fab Melo when thinking of Rakeem Christmas’ upcoming sophomore season.
All three were prized big men, and all came to SU with a long way to go in their basketball development. Their freshmen year went something like this:
There was a steep improvement in their sophomore years:
So when one looks at Rakeem Christmas’ freshman year numbers, they don’t look as alarming. In 37 games, he averaged 2.8 points and 2.9 rebounds, falling perfectly in line with his predecessors.
If Onuaku, Jackson and Melo are any indication, Christmas is in for a significant jump in production this season.
“Mike Hopkins told me he put on about 20 pounds this offseason,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “I think he’s stronger. I think he’s much more prepared to play this year”
Syracuse already got a good look at its future in the NCAA tournament last year. With Melo deemed ineligible due to a reported academic issue, Christmas started at the center spot, and averaged 21.5 minutes, 5.0 points, and 5.3 rebounds a game, nearly double what he averaged in the regular season.
And that was before he put on the extra muscle.
“Last year I played a lot of Big East games and got pushed around so I had to bulk up a little bit,” Christmas said. “It’s going to help me a lot because I won’t get pushed around.”
Sounds like Christmas is in for a sophomore surge.
“I expect him to have a really good year,” Boeheim said. “I expect him to be ready.”
Inside Shot: “If we need rebounding, we can play Christmas and Coleman simultaneously. If we want quickness, a Fair, Southerland, Christmas (or Keita) front court makes sense. Options are a good thing, but they also speak to the holes that seem to exist in both Christmas’ and Coleman’s respective games. I have no idea how things will shake out, or when and where either of them will see most of their time, but if we can get consistent production from them (in one form or another), our front-court is going to be in excellent shape.” —Nate Federman