ORLANDO — Former Syracuse star Rakeem Christmas is playing in the 2017 Orlando Pro Summer League for the Indiana Pacers. Christmas played in a career-high 29 games last year, and will be looking for a bigger role in his third year. We caught up with Christmas to talk about his NBA future, Mike Hopkins leaving for Washington, and Jim Boeheim staying at Syracuse.
The Juice Online: Rakeem, you didn’t get a chance to play today because of an ankle injury. Talk about that and whether you expect to play at all this week or not.
Rakeem Christmas: I rolled it the other day during practice. It’s day-to-day. If I can go tomorrow, I’ll go tomorrow. I’m not going to force it. It’s been getting better so far so hopefully I can go tomorrow, or the next game after that. My teammates did a great job today. They [were] everywhere, hustling. Jarnell [Stokes] and [Bubu Palo were] going at it, going for rebounds, being physical. I’m happy they had an opportunity to go out there and play their game. Everyone’s doing great today.
TJO: What are your expectations for this season? What did the coaching staff say about you suiting up during the season?
RC: As of right now, I don’t know anything. You just have to wait until after summer league. But they just want me to keep doing what I’ve been doing. Being physical, setting screens. Rebounding. The little things that everyone else wants me doing.
TJO: Some other Syracuse guys are here. Kris Joseph. Michael Gbinije. Have you spoken to them in Orlando?
RC: I talked to Kris on the phone a couple of days ago. But I saw him after the game today. He said he’s been doing good. It’s been good to see him. I haven’t seen him in so long. I’m looking forward to seeing him tomorrow. It’s my first time ever playing Kris in a game and not being on my team. We’ll see what happens tomorrow. Hopefully we win.
TJO: You’ve followed a similar journey to him. What kind of advice did he give to you?
RC: He’s telling me to chip away, going out there and doing what I need to do. Working hard and everything will pay off. He’s been doing the same thing. He’s been going overseas and coming back every year and playing summer league. It’s good to see Kris doing that. You never know what’s going to happen. He could have a great summer league and play for a team somewhere. You never know who’s watching. He’s been doing great so far.
TJO: What are your thoughts on Syracuse with Coach Mike Hopkins going to Washington?
RC: We all knew Coach [Jim] Boeheim wasn’t leaving anytime soon. We’re all happy for coach Hop. I Facedtimed him a couple of weeks after he got the job and he’s all over the place. You know how he is. He’s all over the place. I’m just happy to see he’s in a good situation. Washington’s in great hands with him. He’s going to get the best out of everyone. He brought the best out of me too. I hope the best for him.
TJO: None of us thought Jim Boeheim was ever going to leave. Thoughts on him staying for the foreseeable future?
RC: Coach Boeheim is going to ride it until the wheels fall off. He’s been a great coach at Syracuse. He gets a lot of good players go to there and they win a lot of games. So as long as he keeps doing that, he’s not going anywhere.
TJO: What’s the most important thing you learned from Coach Boeheim during your time at Syracuse?
RC: He’s definitely one person that brings the best out of you. He wants to see you succeed. He gets under your skin, but one thing I learned from him was to always give it your all. There were times in the beginning where I would be out there not doing anything, and he’d get under your skin and get you going. That’s definitely one thing I learned from him.