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Syracuse’s C.J. Fair follows Carmelo's footsteps

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, April 5, 2013, at 7:07 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, August 25, 2013, at 9:02 a.m.

About Syracuse

Location: Syracuse, N.Y.

Founded: 1870

Enrollment: 21,029

Why the Orange: The Saltine Warrior was banned in 1978, so Syracuse became the Orangemen to reflect the main school color. It was shortened to gender-neutral Orange in 2004.

Fun fact: The first two digits of the university’s telephone exchange (44) were changed specifically to honor running back Jim Brown.

Famous alums: Vice President Joe Biden, Jim Brown, Dick Clark, Bob Costas

All-time Orange five (by position): SF Carmelo Anthony, PF Derrick Coleman, C Rony Seikaly, SG Dave Bing, PG Sherman Douglas

— You can just call it the “Carmelo Effect.”

When Syracuse won its first – and only – NCAA title behind freshman sensation and Baltimore native Carmelo Anthony in 2003, it introduced a whole new generation of the city’s children to college basketball.

Among those was an 11-year-old East Baltimore kid named C.J. Fair.

“That was one of the first times I really paid attention to college basketball and what was going on … everybody knew who Carmelo was growing up,” Fair said. “When the city watched him win a national championship and go to the NBA, it just gave a boost to the inner-city kids like myself to know that something like that is possible. It was a great feeling for all of Baltimore.”

Fair, a 6-foot-8 junior forward, is now on the brink of making his own history for Syracuse, helping lead the Orange back to the Final Four for the first time since Anthony took them, squaring off against Michigan on Saturday in the Georgia Dome.

“It’s very exciting, just making the Final Four is a great accomplishment,” Fair said. “To a lot of critics we were supposed to lose in the first round. Since we are one of the teams still sticking around, well, we know we have a shot at winning the whole thing.”

Fair turned into a star for Syracuse this season, leading the Orange in scoring at 14.3 points, and he scored in double figures in 34 of 39 games this season. In four NCAA Tournament Fair has led Syracuse in scoring (13.8 points) and is tied for the team lead in rebounding (6.0).

“He’s long, and he’s gotten steadily better and better over his career,” Syracuse guard Brandon Triche said. “You see the improvement and you’re happy for him and for the team because it makes us better, obviously.”

Fair has steadily improved in his three seasons at Syracuse — he averaged 5.8 points as a freshman and 8.4 points as a sophomore.

“That was just me getting more comfortable, getting confidence in yourself,” Fair said. “Knowing the work you put in is paying off and once you get an opportunity you have to take advantage of it. When you do that, the coach puts more trust in you.”

Trust is something Fair had to build with Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who now counts Fair among his leaders.

“C.J. played as a freshman but he didn’t play a lot, didn’t play all the time,” Boeheim said. “We’ve been fortunate that we’ve had veteran guys in those spots, but C.J. kept working and has put himself in a really good spot now.”

The good spot Fair is in right now is one where his name has started popping up on NBA Draft boards in the last two weeks because of how well he has played. His play in the Final Four could shoot him into the first round if he chose to leave school one year early.

“I’m not to the point where I’m even thinking about the NBA right now,” Fair said. “It’s an honor that people think I’m capable of playing at that level but I’m completely focused on helping us win and making sure I do everything I can to win another championship for Syracuse.”

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