Jan. 17, 2011
Pittsburgh -- Mona Lisa found in the grainy and dirty swirls of a mud puddle. That should be what the Syracuse faithful salvage from the drubbing here at the Peterson Events Center. Billed as Ali V. Frazier, instead No. 3 Syracuse at No. 4 Pittsburgh (18-1, 6-1) became something like Mike Tyson pounding Peter McNeeley.
Sure, Syracuse lost by a respectable score of 74-66, but that's misleading, it's wrong. Because who could get past the start to this game? Ugly. 19-0? N-I-N-E-T-E-E-N to nothing...zero, zip, zilch. Syracuse couldn't buy a bucket while Pittsburgh looked like the best team in college basketball, ever. The Orange (18-1, 5-1) did eventually show up, but, really, just a few minutes into this supposed heavyweight title bout it was Pitt by TKO.
Yet, there was something, someone eye-catching for the road team tonight, distracting from the scoreboard: C.J. Fair - a somewhat unheralded freshmen showing up in a big way. The kid from Baltimore, who wasn't the "big get" that Fab Melo was and isn't the blur that Dion Waiters is, was a force for the Orange. That presence not coming from frosh Waiters or even Scoop Jardine or Rick Jackson or Kris Joseph, who sat out the game due to lingering concussion issues. And something tells me, come a few years from now, C.J. Fair's showing up when needed will become routine.
He's a basketball player's basketball player, that's obvious.
But why would Syracuse at Pittsburgh, an epic early game face-plant for the Orange, be such an indicator of future successes and memories?
Well, did you see the way Fair did whatever was necessary to give Syracuse a chance against the Panthers? The first Orange bucket? Because of one C.J. Fair. Force turnovers and deflect Panther passes on defense? Oh, that was C.J. Fair. Hell, the rookie playing his first "big" road game of his career, probably the biggest game of his life, scored a career-high 16 and missed a double-double by one rebound
19-0 turned into a 41-41 tie because the Orange started to play defense and finally ripped the lid off the basket, and Fair was the kindling igniting the Orange fire. A sneaky comeback led by a sneaky-good player. While it was a loss tonight for the Orange (what, you expected the Orange to start something like 23-0? C'mon on, no one does that anymore), as long as C.J. Fair is in the mix, there won't be too many more defeats. And, while I'm projecting, I'll bet there'll never be another 19-0 deficit under his watch. Which should be three more seasons, by the way.
Because Fair needs Syracuse as much as Syracuse needs C.J. Fair. His game has holes that will likely require years of play with summers of practice. And he'll put in the work. He'll slyly transition from key reserve to star, all the while endearing himself to Orange fans and hoops heads across the nation. Stats will probably back that up, but signature moments will define him. This kid is going to have big games against top-tier opponents on the national stage -- when the world is watching he'll deliver in one way or another. And maybe even more importantly, Fair is going to routinely do what everyone else says is missing from basketball.
You can see that this kid is going to become the Picasso of Mid-range jumpers. Need something from someone to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? Fair will be there.The same goes when there's a loose ball or a double-team still needing the double. His will to win bigger than his ego. You may have to look a little harder, squint a bit, but college basketball's finer arts aren't lost, they'll just be taking up residence in Central New York.
This kid game is a rare gem, and we all get to watch his development together. College hoops is all about the one-and-dones, so take a seat and get ready to watch a throwback. In a few years, after marinating, C.J. Fair and Syracuse will have something special. He'll have other supremely talented teammates and, of course, Jim Boeheim will be directing, but none of it will stick without the glue that is Fair's game. By then, by 2014, Fair's Orange will be must-see basketball.
And something tells me there will be a rematch with these Panthers, with the world watching, again. And Fair will show up then just like he did here tonight.
Why am I so confident that this rookie will become something? Especially with the still-lingering fact that Syracuse, you know, LOST this game here in 2011? Well, I keep coming back to how, through all of the chaos of this game, down 19-0 with the Oakland Zoo losing its collective mind, there was Fair, an artist uninterrupted.
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