Monday, August 15, 2011

Big Three Recruits Hope to Make Huge Difference

By D.E. Connors

In today’s world of college basketball, half the battle is recruiting. Coaches can win games, but players win championships. Coaches spend their summer days in hot, sweaty gyms, looking to find the best talent across the country for that simple reason.

Recruiting is vital in building a program and sustaining its success. This year’s Syracuse University three-man recruiting class though, could not only sustain the prestigious program, but hopefully, elevate it to a new status.

The class includes 6’9” center Rakeem Christmas, 6’5” guard Michael Carter-Williams and 6’4” guard Trevor Cooney. Each possess an array of skills as well as outstanding athleticism that will help the Orange in the future.

Christmas is an extremely athletic, defensive-oriented big man from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is ranked second among centers and nineteenth in the country in the class of 2011, according to the ESPNU Top 100 . Christmas was honored as one of the top players in his class by being selected to play in the McDonald’s All-American Game as well as the Jordan Brand Classic.

Alex Kline of called him, “one of the best defensive players in the class of 2011.” Christmas is quick off his feet, runs the floor well and can jump out of the gym. Christmas excels in the paint on both sides of the ball. Offensively, he is a rim-rattler who finds most of his points on dunks and in transition. Defensively, he uses his 88’ wingspan to block and disrupt shots and grab rebounds. Christmas is an excellent fit in the Syracuse 2-3 zone, where his long arms and intimidating presence will keep opponents out of the paint. He is expected to move into the rotation and play significant minutes as a freshman.

Although it may be ambitious to expect Christmas to score the way his predecessor, Rick Jackson did, it is fair to believe that he will protect the rim and hit the glass like Orange fans are used to.

However, Christmas is far from a finished product. Christmas has had problems with his consistency and bringing the same energy night in and night out. He struggles to score with his back to the basket and has limited range on his jump shot. However, according to Evan Daniels, a national basketball recruiting analyst, Christmas has “more offensive tools than people give him credit for.”

Christmas chose the Orange over Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, Georgetown, Rutgers and Florida International. He reportedly was looking for a warm weather school, so Syracuse will be a perfect fit for him.

Michael Carter-Williams is a versatile guard out from Hamilton, Massachusetts. He also played in the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic. The ESPNU Top 100 ranks him fourth amongst shooting guards and twentieth nationally in the class of 2011. Carter-Williams is a smooth player who can put the ball in the bucket in many ways.

“He scores like we breathe,” Tom Konchalski, one of the most highly regarded scouts in the business, said

Carter-Williams can hit from deep, but is not limited to just shooting. He is also able to use his length and athleticism to knife into the paint and finish or dish to a teammate. Even though the entire Syracuse backcourt returns, Carter-Williams will find a way onto the court because he can score at an alarming rate and play multiple positions.

However, for Syracuse, he will play point guard most often. Carter-Williams told me “that’s [point guard] what coach Boeheim wants me to play.”

Carter-Williams is noted for his special ability to close out games, something that Syracuse is in search of. On the defensive side of the ball, he plays with energy and is able to use to long arms to get into passing lanes.

Once he gets to Syracuse though, Carter-Williams will need to bulk up. As of now, strength is his biggest issue. He is a wiry 175 lbs, but to play in the rugged Big East, Carter-Williams will need to gain muscle to his skinny frame. But the positives out weigh the negatives, in this case.

“He’s got a slender build and might not look intimidating, but he can really score the basketball,” Alex Schwartz, President and Chief Scouting Officer of Northstar Basketball, said.

Carter-Williams chose Syracuse over Providence, Boston College, Temple and UMASS because, he said, “I felt at home when I visited Syracuse and I love the coaches and players.”

Trevor Cooney, a 6’4” shooter out of Wilmington, Delware, was the first of the group to commit. He picked Syracuse over Big East foes, Notre Dame, West Virginia, Villanova as well as Maryland.

Cooney is ranked seventeenth amongst shooting guards and sixty-seventh in the in the class of 2011, according to the ESNPU Top 100.

Cooney, first and foremost, is a three-point marksmen. He has “the tools you look for in a shooter,” according to Daniels. Cooney excels at running off screens and shooting off the catch and after one or two dribbles. However, unlike most players who serve the role of “shooter” Cooney can also use his athleticism to penetrate, as seen here - 

At the same time, Cooney doesn’t always take advantage of his athletic abilities. According to Schwartz, “He almost pigeonholes himself into the role of a shooter, when he has the ability to do more than that.”

If Cooney penetrates more often, the defender will have to respect that aspect of his game. In effect, he would create more space for himself as a shooter.

Cooney, who told me he models his game after Ray Allen and J.J. Redick, needs to continue to work on his ball-handling, in order to complete his offensive repertoire. No matter how his ball-handling skills progress though, he will always bring to the table a skill that every team needs - shooting.

The three players could all play pivotal roles next season, despite the many returnees on the Syracuse roster. This recruiting class possesses the athleticism, skill and intangibles to make a difference for the Syracuse basketball program next year and in the years to come. Christmas, Carter-Williams and Cooney could make all those summer days in hot, sweaty and small gyms just worth it.

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