Like many 12 year olds, C.J. Fair dabbled in many different sports. He played some baseball, a little football and anything his friends were into at the time.
Then he started "growing like a weed," as his father Carl put it, and Carl asked him to pick one sport. C.J. chose basketball, and he and his friends — Antonio and Will Barton, Josh Selby and Nick Faust — began dominating anyone who stood in their way. They formed a super team, as the lanky lefty C.J. continued to sharpen his game at the John Eager Howard Community Center and around Baltimore playgrounds.
"That's when I knew he had it in him," Carl Fair said. "And I knew that's what he wanted to do. That's when he started really focusing solely on basketball."
As his father predicted when C.J. was 12, the NBA is now a real possibility. The NBA draft is Thursday, and Fair is projected as a mid-to-late second round pick. After four years playing for Jim Boeheim at Syracuse and finishing as one of the most distinguished players in school history, Fair has trained with NBA greats George Gervin and John Lucas this offseason to prepare for the draft.
He has worked out for half of the NBA's teams in recent weeks, and he's fully confident he'll hear his name called Thursday night. Those close to Fair think whichever team takes him will be getting a steal.
"I think he's one of the most underrated guys in this whole draft," Orlando Magic forward Tobias Harris said. "Whatever team picks him, I think the sky's the limit for him."
Fair and Harris work out together with Gervin in San Antonio. Harris, who was drafted 19th overall in 2011, has known Fair for years. They teamed up on the Baltimore Stars Amateur Athletic Union team in high school and have been friends since.
Harris' father, Torrel, is now C.J.'s agent. He was Gervin's agent, too, which is how C.J. got the opportunity to work out with Gervin. Fair and Harris often work on their 1-on-1 play, as Fair is striving to show scouts that the playmaking ability he had in college can translate to the next level.
"George Gervin, he's been a great mentor for me, helping me with my technique on the offensive end," Fair said. "We've been working on my jump shot and how to get separation."
While at Syracuse, getting separation was Fair's forte. He'd give a little jab step, then another, up fake and shoot over the defender. Defenders would know what was coming but still often be unable to stop it. Carl Fair calls C.J.'s midrange game his bread and butter.
Longtime Baltimore Stars official Troy Franklin, who watched Fair play throughout his childhood, agrees with Carl's assessment.
"He can shoot the lights out," Franklin said.
Fair is trying to market himself as a mid-range threat who can play solid defense. He knows some critics say playing in Boeheim's 2-3 zone is disadvantageous going to the NBA, but Fair's out to debunk that myth.
When he's not working out with teams or Gervin, Fair makes his way to Houston to train with Lucas, the NBA's No. 1 pick in 1976 out of Maryland.
Five hours a day. Shots from all over the court. Dribbling drills. The workouts are grueling, but Fair knows they will be worth it.
Lucas said Fair's ball-handling has consistently improved since he arrived in Houston. At Syracuse, Fair had to dribble the ball more his senior year because of the team's lack of depth at guard. He knows everyone has to be able to dribble extremely well in the NBA, so he's ensuring his handles are up to par.
Lucas' main goals are to improve the 6-foot-8 Fair's conditioning and continue to polish his right hand. While Fair still has a ways to go, Lucas believes he has tremendous upside.
"C.J. is savvy and crafty as a player," Lucas said. "He's working hard to continue to improve his shot. His decision making is very good."
When Fair was trying to decide whether to declare for the draft after his junior season, Carl weighed in on the matter. His degree was within reach, so why not stay? Though this year's draft class is a lot stronger, he's going to have to guard players like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony at small forward if all goes according to plan, so why not continue to improve another year?
And that's what Fair did, piecing together his most complete season at Syracuse. He averaged 16.6 points per game, forming one of the most lethal duos in the country with freshman Tyler Ennis.
While the natural inclination of many players is to go to the NBA as soon as possible, Fair was the exception. Rather than hurt his stock like North Carolina forward James Michael McAdoo, for example, he continued to build his resume and improve his game.
Unlike Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Noah Vonleh, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon — all potential top-10 picks who left after their freshman season — Fair stuck around. His Twitter bio has read "Transitioning from fitting in to standing out" for months, and that is what Fair has gradually done over the past four years. Tobias Harris believes that experience will help him mightily going forward.
"I think he's more ready than more than half the guys in this whole NBA draft." Harris said. "He played four years in college, so he's more mature."
Carl and C.J. Fair say they've received positive feedback from NBA team's about C.J.'s offensive skills and his ability to make the game look easy. C.J. has been pleased with how he's performed in 3-on-3 and 1-on-1 drills, knowing training with Gervin and Harris has been instrumental.
For the string bean from Baltimore, the NBA is now at his fingertips. He doesn't just want to get drafted; he wants to make his mark in the league and stay in it for years.
Looking back, he knows all the hard work he's put in is going to pay off and he's eager to continue surprising people.
"When the draft comes and I hear my name called that'll be amazing," Fair said. "It'll be everything."