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Syracuse Basketball’s Underrated Yet Invaluable C.J. Fair

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It should be easy for fans to get behind a guy like C.J. Fair. He arrived at Syracuse without a ton of fanfare. His game is understated since he does everything well but nothing great. He prefers producing to talking, yet can entertain with explosive dunks and blocks. What’s not to love about a humble kid who shows up to work everyday, gets his job done, and also happens to rock the rim with the best of them?

Even better, Fair seems like the type of player who loves to rise to the occasion. There’s no doubt he plays bigger in big games.

His first breakout performance came when SU team needed it most. The Orange faced Pitt and the hostile “Oakland Zoo” on January 17th. With far less talent than a team deserving of the number three-ranking in the country (though it had that target on its back nonetheless), and battling to remain unbeaten without its best player, SU found itself in a difficult situation against the Panthers.

Pitt’s 19-0 run to start the game didn’t help matters. The deer in the headlights look branded many of the Syracuse players’ faces. Fair was one of the few to keep his composure. It often seemed like his aggressive rebounding and drives to the basket were the only things keeping the Orange in the game. He finished the night with a team-high 16 points, as well as nine rebounds. Pretty impressive for a scrawny freshman who was fighting just to earn the last spot in Coach Boeheim’s rotation at the beginning of the season.

Fair put together similar outings in key games against Marquette and this week’s loss to Georgetown, when the majority of his teammates once again struggled.

Fair is also fascinating because he’s so reminiscent of one of the great NBA role players of all time. The similarities are endless.

Let’s consider a description of Fair once again:

  • Tall wing player
  • Long wingspan
  • Extremely skinny
  • Left-handed
  • Extremely proficient shot-blocker for a perimeter player
  • Superb midrange game, rare in this generation

NBA veteran Tayshaun Prince owns all of those attributes. It’s the midrange game – those tweener shots Fair converts so well – that first drew my attention to the resemblance. Compensating for lack of sheer strength and ability to get all the way to the rim , Fair has a knack for hitting creative and unconventional 10-footers. It’s a very uncommon trait among today’s ballers. Add that to the rest of the bullet points above, and it’s uncanny how similar the two lefties are.

It gets even freakier when you compare their stats – Prince’s freshman year at Kentucky to Fair’s this year. Coming into Saturday, Fair’s averaging 5.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. Prince also scored 5.8 points per game as a freshman, and 3.8 rebounds.

Fair has a long way to go before his game is anywhere near as polished as Prince’s. Prince showed a lot of improvement from year-to-year at Kentucky. He ended up earning a spot on the second and third AP All-American Teams his junior and season years. His stat-stuffing ways placed his name all over the UK record books by the time his college career wrapped up.

The biggest advantage Prince has over Fair is his ability to shoot the rock consistently from long range. Even though Prince wasn’t a great percentage three-point shooter in college, he attempted enough treys to prove he was at least capable of spreading the floor. He continued to fire up threes in the NBA, and is now the proud owner of a 37% career mark from downtown.

Fair has only attempted 3 three-pointers on the season, which leaves doubt whether he could ever become an outside threat. If he eventually managed to expand his range, not only could he legally be referred to as Tayshaun Prince, he’d be a phenomenally well-rounded basketball player, with potential for a long and successful NBA career.

For now, Orange fans will take the C.J. Fair that’s here. The one whose game is underappreciated because it’s so unique, and more valuable than you might think to this SU team.

Posted: Andrew Kanell

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