Philly roots run through Rakeem Christmas

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Philly native Rakeem Christmas goes up for a dunk in Syracuse's game against Temple. (Photo: Mark Jordna)

Philly native Rakeem Christmas goes up for a dunk in Syracuse’s game against Temple. (Photo: Mark Jordna)

Andrew Albert (@andrewjalbert01)

Philadelphia high school basketball has a rich tradition, with greats such as Kobe Bryant and Wilt Chamberlain passing through the City of Brotherly Love. Philadelphia in current times churns out Division I talent all over the city. Some of the best in the city have ended up at Syracuse University, as is the case of forward Rakeem Christmas.

“It was close to home,” Christmas said. “I knew players like Scoop and Dion, I played with them. I figured it was was a good spot here. Coach Boeheim is a great coach, so it was a good fit,”

Christmas was drawn to Syracuse because of Dion Waiters, who is currently playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Scoop Jardine, who went to Neumann-Goretti in the city of Philadelphia.

“I think Rak having those guys was huge,” Syracuse assistant coach Mike Hopkins told CoBL. “Like when Paul Harris and Johnny Flynn came. They had friends, they felt comfortable, and thats what they want to do. We have been very fortunate to have the Philly guy’s success, and that the Philly guys want to come. It is a simple recipe.

Christmas, who attended the Academy of the New Church, is in his second year under Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim at Syracuse. The 6-foot-9 sophomore started 35 of the Orange’s 37 games last season, but averaged just 3.8 points and 3.4 rebounds per game.

“I think it plays a big part. A lot of the guys on that team (Temple) were from Philly, so he wanted to go out there and compete,” C.J. Fair said of Christmas. “It’s like me from Baltimore, there is a lot of pride in where you come from, and I know those Philly guys have it.”

Through 11 games this season, Christmas has already accumulated career single-game highs in points (11), field goals made (five), blocks (five) and steals (two). He has attempted 58 field goals already this season, while he took just 75 all of last year. Yet, there is still more work to be done for the big man.

“I’m being more aggressive, going for the ball more. Basically just going out there and playing hard,” Christmas said.

Christmas (right) says he is working on...

Christmas (right), here matched up against Temple’s Anthony Lee, says he is working on his aggressiveness. (Photo: Mark Jordan)

“He just needs to be more aggressive,” Hopkins said. “The kid is so talented. He is getting better every day. He does a lot of good. He is improving defensively, he has improved his shot. And rebounding. I think the biggest thing for all these big guys is you need to be able to rebound the basketball. You have to get after it. His rebounds per minute have been very good this season. We work on every aspect of his game.”

So far this year, he is second in the Big East in blocked shots (2.5 bpg), and is third in field goal percentage (.627). He is seeing extended minutes, as he is playing beside a true freshman in DaJuan Coleman. He is averaging just over 20 minutes per contest. His defense is also a big part of why he is seeing extra minutes.

“The biggest thing for Syracuse is the zone defense,” Hopkins said. “Being that man in the middle that is blocking shots, making positions and being a difference maker in there. He is going to be a great player.”

Not only is Christmas a force on the inside and improving at a rapid rate, but he has the intangibles to be a good player for the Orange.

“Rak is going to be a tremendous player,” Hopkins added. “The thing that we have been lucky with is he is an amazing kid. He is the salt of the Earth in terms of being a kid. Big guys take a little bit longer to develop, and all you have to do is work hard every day. He has a great work ethic and is trying to get better every day.”

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