Men's Basketball

Boeheim calls center injuries a ‘blessing in disguise’ for Christmas

Joshua Chang Staff Photographer

Rakeem Christmas has played 35 minutes in each of Syracuse's last two games, both narrow wins over Pittsburgh and North Carolina State. Without DaJuan Coleman and Baye Moussa Keita, he's stayed out of foul trouble and been efficient at both ends of the court.

In only a few weeks, No. 1 Syracuse went from having three viable centers to one. DaJuan Coleman underwent season-ending knee surgery on Jan. 28. Baye Moussa Keita sprained his right knee on Feb. 9 and hasn’t played since.

Rakeem Christmas, once the main recipient of ire from head coach Jim Boeheim this season, has been forced into playing maximum minutes in the last two games.

And he’s thrived.

“It’s probably been a big benefit for us,” Boeheim said on the Atlantic Coast Conference coaches’ teleconference Monday. “Christmas realizes that he can play longer, and that in playing longer, he’s realized that he can play better.

“I think it’s been a blessing, a big blessing, in disguise.”

Christmas turned-in likely the best performance of his career in the Orange’s 56-55 win against North Carolina State on Saturday. He scored a team-high 14 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked a career-high seven shots. With 210-pound forward Jerami Grant playing the role of backup center, Christmas stayed out of foul trouble for his second straight 35-minute outing.

After the game, he said he’s just focused on keeping his body and arms straight up.

“He won the game the other night,” Boeheim said. “He was the key factor in the game the other night, and that was the first time he’s been the key factor in a game since he’s been here.”

Here’s a breakdown of how Christmas’ minutes at the center position have increased through the season:

gif

With Keita expected to return soon, Christmas’ minutes will likely shrink again. But Boeheim said he sees the confidence the additional playing time has instilled in Christmas.

Supporting cast or not, it’s clear that that experience could pay dividends come tournament time.

Said Boeheim: “We’d like to get Keita back, and we think we will pretty soon. But I think it’s been a help for Christmas because I think he’s realized that if he can avoid a couple little fouls, then he can be in the game longer and he can be more productive.”

Top Stories