On August 6th, 2010, another top recruit from Philadelphia chose to play for Jim Boeheim and the Syracuse Orange.
Hakim Warrick, the dynamic duo of Scoop Jardine and Rick Jackson and Dion Waiters paved the way for Rakeem Christmas to be another key player from Philly to have success with the Orange. After three full seasons, the 6'9" center has accomplished a lot of things to be proud of.
Four years later he has played in 111 games, starting in all but two. He won a Big East regular season title and played for a number one seeded team in the NCAA tournament as a freshman, made a Final Four appearance as a sophomore and became the first Syracuse basketball player to ever graduate in three years according to Boeheim.
Christmas was ranked 20th nationally by ESPN in their class of 2011 rankings and along with Michael Carter-Williams and Trevor Cooney, they formed a top recruiting class. He then started in 35 of 37 games in that Elite 8 run his first year and with the presence of Fab Melo and his superb play, it looked like when he left for the NBA that things would still be merry for the Orange with Christmas time just around the corner.
Despite all of those accomplishments, it seems as though he has not completely reached his potential on the court up to this point in his career.
Even though he has played in so many games, Christmas averages only 4.5 points and 4.2 rebounds per game for his career. He set his careers-highs in 2014 with 5.8 and 5.1 respectively. But with a younger roster, is that going to be enough to help this team contend for the ACC this season?
He is the only player left from the 34-3 and one-seeded 2012 team and one of two remaining players to have played in the Final Four game in 2013 (Trevor Cooney). A lot of the guys he played with have graduated like he has done, but they moved on. Christmas is now the senior leader. It is his team and the time is now for him to step it up, because those numbers can not lead this team to contention.
His struggles on the offensive end have been somewhat of a theme over his career. He is not too involved in the offense and does not generate too many quality touches. His usage percentage (% of a teams plays that involves a specific player) was 12.2, the second lowest on the team last season. He did not get the ball that often, but his offensive touch was not bad. His 61.3 percent from the field ranked third in the conference. He also showed at times he could stretch the floor with a confident jumper and he even made a career-high 72 percent from the free throw line after two 50 percent seasons.
His offense is slightly improving, but he has not quite reached his full potential. The Orange should have him screen on the ball more. His athleticism and his ability to make a jumper would make him hard to guard in those situations. He could also have success on the fast break. After blocking a shot or grabbing a rebound, Christmas can be a beast of an athlete on the break. In a faster offense that gives him more touches, those offensive numbers could potentially reach new levels.
He is also the anchor of the 2-3 zone defense, one of the most important parts of the system. At the center position, he is the rim and paint protector for the Orange's defense. He will not only have to worry about himself, but also help his other teammates reach their spots and learn how to play the defense. This, though, should come easy to the guy that has played multiple positions in that zone so many games in his career. Defensively, he has not had a bad career by any means. He was fifth in the ACC in blocks per game last season, maybe he can lead the league this year.
After three extremely eventful years, Rakeem Christmas will be playing his final games in Orange this season. He has worked hard and learned a lot, but he will have a new role as a senior this year. A lot of things have changed and now it is his time to not only shine on the court, but also lead the team to heights it has only reached on a few occasions.