The time is now for Syracuse basketball. With a #1 ranking in the country and nightly blowouts of inferior competition, like the 80-61 drubbing of Tulane last night, all eyes are focused on what the Orange can accomplish this season. But another exciting story line is developing in the backdrop for Jim Boeheim: SU’s future is just bright as its present.
Michael Carter-Williams and Rakeem Christmas have provided assurances thus far the Orange will be handing the Final Four baton to very capable hands. Both came in as McDonald’s All-Americans, but because of the depth of the roster have seen limited action so far. Boeheim, though, has seen an opportunity this week to get the two freshman some playing time, and both have taken advantage.
Christmas posted a career high 10 points, along with 5 rebounds and 2 blocks in 14 minutes of work Tuesday night. Rak was simply more athletic than any of the Bucknell players trying to defend him, and was dominant from the start, scoring the first 7 Orange points. The Per’fesser says Christmas has showed promise, but still has a long way to go.
“Rakeem works in practice, but basically he is too nice. He needs to get more physical on the basketball court. You can be as nice as you want off the court. Carmelo Anthony is the quietest, nicest kid off the court but once he gets on the court it is serious business. He’s physical and he’s going to play you hard and Rak needs to use those skills. It takes time. I’ve seen almost no big guys come in and be physical. Hakim Warrick played in the NBA six or seven years and his freshman year he couldn’t even play in this league. He got better. He’ll get better.”
Carter-Williams logged 22 minutes against the Bison, and another 18 last night. Against Bucknell, MCW filled out the boxscore with 6 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, and a steal. He provided the exclamation point to the victory with a steal and slam late in the second half. Versus Tulane, he chipped in 7 points, 3 assists and 2 rebounds.
“We wanted to get Michael some opportunities and he’s still trying to figure it out. He made a couple really good plays at the end (against Bucknell) so I’m glad we were able to leave him in there to get that experience. It was a 13-point game when he made a great drive and dish out to Scoop for a three – then he made four free throws and made good defensive plays. So, that was good for him.”
While the freshman haven’t had many opportunities to showcase their talents in game action, they both understand their roles and have brought in a humble attitude from day one. That may be part of the reason they’ve gained the respect of their older teammates, like Kris Joseph, in practice.
“Rakeem and Michael are very capable freshman – highly talented out of high school as you all know. Rakeem just showed a little bit of what he can do. He really hasn’t even scratched the surface of his potential and Michael can do the same thing. Michael showed tonight mentally that he can really run the offense and they both did a tremendous job for us.”
It’s been the perfect time to get Christmas and MCW some significant minutes before Big East play starts next week. Most of their contributions came with the game still in balance, while they’ll likely not be relied upon in conference play. Whether Christmas and Carter-Williams are even given the opportunity to make an impact from here on out remains to be seen.
But imagine the experience both are getting in playing with a Final Four-caliber squad. How beneficial will this season be for carrying over a elite intensity into their sophomore season? Add in redshirt Trevor Cooney, DC 2.0 and Jerami Grant, and the long term outlook is exhilarating. Some time in the not-so-distant future, these players will take over as leading men for the Orange. This week they provided a small glimpse at how bright that future could be.
Posted: Steve Niekam