Syracuse Basketball

Orange Outlook: Why Rakeem Christmas Will Fill Rick Jackson's Shoes

CLEVELAND, OH - MARCH 20:  Fans wear head coach Jim Boeheim of the Syracuse Orange masks during the game between the Syracuse Orange and the Marquette Golden Eagles during the third of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Quicken Loans Arena on March 20, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Daniel O'BrienFeatured ColumnistSeptember 28, 2011

This fall, Syracuse fans will see the debut of 6'9" McDonald's All-American Rakeem Christmas.

Although the young center needs plenty of work to fine-tune his skills, he has the size, athleticism and upside to become a force in the paint for the Orange. He has greater potential than any of Syracuse's recent post players.

Most scouts list Christmas in the top 20 in his class, and he's arguably the best freshman center in the country. NBADraft.net projects him to be the eighth pick in the 2013 NBA Draft if he leaves early. So what do scouts see in him, and why will he be the next great big man for the Orange?

Christmas is a different type of center than Boeheim's previous big men. He's more athletic than Arinze Onuaku or Rick Jackson and can run the floor very well. With his 7'2" wingspan and leaping ability, "Roc" will be an excellent fit for the 2-3 once he learns the system.

Offensively, he's a long way from being a versatile big man, but Onuaku and Jackson were also raw when they were freshmen. Film and video highlights show improvement on his jumper and willingness to expand his game. He finishes well in transition and will be a dunking machine when he gets the ball in good position.

Nearly every scout has mentioned that he plays "with a chip on his shoulder," but still needs to improve his motor. However, scouts frequently used the phrase "great upside" when referring to Christmas. He has the elite athleticism and foundational skills to grow into all-american form.

In his freshman campaign, Christmas will have to work on his back-to-the-basket game, along with knocking down open mid-range jumpers.

Meanwhile, he will immediately be an impact player defensively and on the glass. Opponents will have a tough time dealing with his combination of length and agility. He's also a sturdy 230 pounds, well on his way to having the ideal physique of a center or power forward.

By his sophomore year, Christmas will be one of the premiere rebounders and defenders in the Big East. Syracuse fans should give him a chance. His talents fit very well in Boeheim's system, and he'll soon be the best big man the Orange have had in years. 

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