ATLANTA — 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 citys 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.
Its 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).
Hes long, and hes gotten steadily better and better over his career, Syracuse guard Brandon Triche said. You see the improvement and youre 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 didnt play a lot, didnt play all the time, Boeheim said. Weve been fortunate that weve 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.
Im not to the point where Im even thinking about the NBA right now, Fair said. Its an honor that people think Im capable of playing at that level but Im completely focused on helping us win and making sure I do everything I can to win another championship for Syracuse.