Kings For A Day: C.J. Fair, Dajuan Coleman, Rakeem Christmas Play In Utica Summer League

Rakeem Christmas, Dajuan Coleman, and C.J. Fair participate in Monday's "King of Kings" summer league game at Utica College. - Jeremy Ryan

It’s the middle of June, and if you’re like me you’ve been jonesing for ANY college basketball since SU’s season ended more than two months ago. Well it just so happens that the annual “King of Kings” summer league started up this week, and opening night featured three current Orange men.

With my smartphone and notepad in tow, I ventured down the Thruway to Utica College to take in the action Monday night. In the second contest of the evening, Syracuse Orange forwards C.J. Fair and Dajuan Coleman laced ‘em up for “Takeover” as they faced “Utica Select”, featuring SU teammate Rakeem Christmas.

All three players started the game, and early on Takeover (coached by Brandon Triche's father/Howard's brother Melvin Triche) made it a point to get the ball to Coleman in the post. With Christmas guarding him, Dajuan - wearing his familiar #32 - used his powerful frame to bulldoze his way into the paint for a smooth-looking left-handed hook shot. Christmas and Coleman were typically matched up whenever both were in the game, and Dajuan seemed to relish the opportunity to show off some polished post moves against a legitimate opponent. I saw Coleman knock down a pair of lefty hooks in the paint, a nice face-up baseline jumper, and a handful of layups around the rim for an unofficial total of 15 points. I say ‘unofficial’ because my wife and I tried to keep stats on a notepad, but we may have missed a bucket or two and only got a quick glimpse of the official scorebook before it was whisked away.

Coleman also dominated the glass, collecting 13 rebounds for a double-double in roughly 30 minutes of play. He looked like he is in very shape, and appears to have dropped a few pounds since we last saw him on the court.

The only knock I would have on Coleman was that he let a few catchable balls go through his fingers. A couple of bobbled rebounds, a missed pass here, a stolen dribble there… they weren’t egregious errors by any stretch, but definitely something he could stand to work on over the next few months.

Fair (sporting #15) picked up right where he left off when last season ended. He started out slow, only scoring four points in the first quarter, but heated up from the outside to finish with 21. Most of his output came from the perimeter, where he appeared very comfortable from 15-20 feet. He also chipped in 8 rebounds, and submitted probably the highlight of the game when he hit a step back, pump fake three and drew a foul, resulting in a four-point play. Fair still needs to work on his right-hand dribble drive, and probably could stand to show more of a pull-up shot off the bounce, but otherwise he showed little to suggest he will be anything other than the team’s best offensive player in 2013-14.

Finally, Christmas (wearing #23, which was just wrong) was Christmas on both ends of the floor. He battled Coleman to a stalemate on several defensive possessions, and if anything his physical presence in the paint showed how much Dajuan has improved on offense. He was active around the rim, and submitted a workmanlike 10 points and 5 rebounds on the evening. However, he had a couple of missed dunk attempts - one on an alley-oop, one on a putback - that gave me unpleasant flashbacks. He didn’t show me anything in an admittedly small sample size to suggest he has improved his offense this summer, but there is still plenty of time to work on his game before Boeheim and company roll out the balls for October preseason practice.

So if you factor in the typical summer league guard-oriented style of play, the lack of consistent foul calls (seriously, there were times I wasn’t sure why the refs were even out there), and the helter-skelter tempo of the event, I think all three Orange acquitted themselves well in the league’s opening night. Various other commitments will likely prevent all three from playing in every game, but if you have a chance to stop by Utica College or Mohawk Valley Community College this summer you’ll get a basketball fix to help tide you over until the fall.

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