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Sweet 16: C.J. Fair, Syracuse

Big things were expected out of C.J. Fair after his All-Metro sophomore season at City.

The 6-foot-8 small forward was a surefire high-major prospect after leading the Knights that season to the Class 2A North Region semifinals. But over the next two years, Fair tore his ACL and missed his entire junior season with the Knights, and then left town to play with former Lake Clifton star Will Barton at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire. With his two-year absence from local high school competition, Fair felt like he may have faded from the Baltimore basketball scene's collective consciousness

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"Once I fell off the radar, and then I went to prep school, I was away from the city," Fair said. "A lot of people forgot me back home. I haven't played there since 10th grade. I don't think many people had big expectations for me."

Jim Boeheim, however, was resolute in his belief that the potential Fair showed as a sophomore – and during his year at Brewster – was anything but an aberration. While the knee injury led to Fair's plummet down the national rankings – from a borderline five-star prospect to Rivals.com's No. 94 prospect in the 2010 class – the Syracuse coach was confident that he had a future star in Fair.

"After he got hurt, some people might have lost some interest in him," Boeheim said. "We thought he was a good player and knew he would come back. I saw him in the summer and then I saw him at Brewster when he was up there. You could see that he hadn't gotten back all the way. With knees, it usually takes a full year, for some it takes a year and a half. But you could see that he was on his way back. … I think he's going to surprise people some day. He'll be one of the best players out of the Baltimore area some day."That praise comes from a man intimately familiar with two of Baltimore's all-time greats: former Towson Catholic stars and current NBA players Carmelo Anthony and Donte Greene. Fair didn't have the impact either of those Baltimore natives had in their freshmen seasons with the Orange, but Fair was "one of [Syracuse's] steadiest guys." With averages of 6.4 points and 3.8 rebounds in just 18.6 minutes per game, Fair offered a reminder to everyone back home why he was so highly regarded early in his high school career.

Fair said he was confident coming into his freshman year at Syracuse, but realistic in his assessment of the Big East landscape.

"Coming in, you always hear how tough it is and how hard you're going to work to beat a team, no matter how low their record is or how high," Fair said. "Coming in, I didn't know what to expect. Coming into the Big East, it was like a different season. Every game you've got to turn it up that much higher. It's really physical. Early on I had a hard time adjusting because the league is so physical. Sometimes the refs don't call every bump or hit."

Eventually, Fair settled into a sixth-man role for the Orange, and flourished in the latter half of the season. His best games came against conference opponents. Fair scored 16 points at Pittsburgh, 10 at Marquette (on 5-for-7 shooting), 12 against Georgetown (6-for-9 shooting), 11 points and 12 rebounds against Louisville and a season-high 17 points against Rutgers. In the Orange's opening-round win over Indiana State in the NCAA tournament, Fair contributed 14 points and seven rebounds.

"He might have gotten lost in the shuffle a little bit after he got hurt," Boeheim said, "but I think he's a lot better than people thought coming out. He's a really, really good player. He'll be one of the top players in his class. I think that's why we've been very fortunate. Baltimore has been a good area for us. This guy, he's going to make his mark, for sure."

While his college debut was impressive, Fair was far from satisfied. He spent most of the summer back in Baltimore, working out every day at the Merritt Athletic Club downtown. He added seven pounds of muscle to his previously lanky frame, and worked hard to extend the range on his jumper.

"I just want [Syracuse fans] to know that I really worked on my game a lot this summer, I improved a lot," Fair said. "It will show on the court. I think they can expect to see a better, improved C.J. Fair. If I get better, and I know my teammates got better, it'll be a good, promising year."

Boeheim has been impressed so far with what he's seen out of Fair this fall. It's clear to the Syracuse coach that the sophomore small forward dedicated himself over the summer to getting stronger and becoming a better shooter. There's no question, Boeheim said, that Fair has made "a big improvement" since the end of the 2010-11 season.

"He'll have more of an impact," this season, Boeheim said. "He'll get more time. We'll look to him a little bit more when he's in there. It's probably one of the most well-balanced teams we've had in a long time. I think he's one of the key guys for us. But he's on a tremendous path. I think he can be a dominant player before he leaves here."

The Sweet 16 is an occasional series profiling the 16 best Division I college basketball players from the Baltimore area. Players were selected based on prior accomplishments and projections for the upcoming season.

Previous Sweet 16 selections:

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U.S. Presswire photo of C.J. Fair by Howard Smith / Feb. 21, 2011

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