C.J. Fair considers himself "a top wing player in the country." This season, the former City star will get a chance to prove it.
“This year my role is much bigger than my previous two years,” Fair said. “I’m more of a focus this time. I’m one of the leaders on the team. It’s just a different approach to the game. I’m an upperclassman now, so I’ve gotta come with that approach and lead the team.”
In Fair’s two college seasons, the Orange have gone 61-11. But with Kris Joseph (Boston Celtics), Fab Melo (Boston Celtics) and Dion Waiters (Cleveland Cavaliers) off to the NBA, Fair said he’s ready to pick up his production and guide Syracuse deep into the postseason once again.
Fair, who graduated from Brewster (N.H.) Academy after three years at City, averaged 6.4 points and 3.8 rebounds in 18.6 minutes as a freshman. The 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward’s role expanded considerably during the 2011-12 season, with averages of 8.5 points and 5.4 rebounds. Fair said he relished his role as one of Syracuse’s super subs.
“I could say it worked in my favor a lot. I knew coach [Jim Boeheim] wanted me and [Waiters] to come into the game and contribute right away,” Fair said. “He didn’t look at it as his bench players; he looked at us as his starters to come in and basically take over the game. Not just scoring and stuff, but changing the whole tempo and getting the team [fired up].”
One of Fair’s best games of his sophomore season came as a starter. In a 64-63 win over Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16, Fair led Syracuse in points (15), rebounds (seven) and steals (four). He shot 7-for-9 from the field against the Badgers after going 7-for-27 during the previous six games.
“[In] previous games [I was] taking the same shots, [and it] just wasn’t falling,” Fair said. “That game, it just fell for me. I had a rhythm that I didn’t have the previous few games. But it was all about rhythm and seeing the ball go through the net.”
Fair appeared in all 37 of the Orange’s games as a sophomore, starting nine. But despite coming off the bench, Fair averaged the second-most minutes (26.4) on the team behind Joseph (32.2). He was the Orange’s fifth-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder. Only returner – senior guard Brandon Triche – averaged more points than Fair last season, so it stands to reason that the former Knights star is due for a rise statistically again this year.
“It’s something I’ve been waiting for my whole college career,” he said. “I’ve … tried to prepare myself [for a bigger role]. As far as being the kind of vocal leader, that’s something I never was given the chance to do [as an underclassman at City and Syracuse and at Brewster]. I always had someone else on the team for that. This year I’ve got to be more vocal.”
Much of Syracuse’s offense runs through its forwards, so Fair said he’s been getting more attention in practice than in years past. Fair said this will be a “well-balanced” Syracuse squad that plays well together.
“It’s a different look for this team,” Fair said. “I think we can have a good year this year. … The record might not show it at first, but [we should] be a national title contender.”
The Sweet 16 is an occasional series profiling the best Division I college basketball players from the Baltimore area. Players were selected based on prior accomplishments and projections for the upcoming season.