Looking ahead: A trio of talented recruits could help the 'Cuse on the court

Rakeem Christmas, Michael Carter-Williams, and Trevor Cooney have committed to the Syracuse men's basketball team. All three players were ranked in ESPNU's Top 100 prospects, and each will help the Orange in different ways.

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 always prestigious program, but hopefully, elevate it to a new status.

The class includes 6-foot 9-inch center Rakeem Christmas, 6-foot 5-inch guard Michael Carter-Williams and 6-foot 4-inch guard Trevor Cooney. Each possesses 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. He is ranked second among centers and nineteenth in the country in the 2011 class, 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 TheRecruitScoop.com called Christmas, “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. He 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-inch wingspan to block and disrupt shots and grab rebounds. He will be 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.

However, Christmas is far from a finished product. He 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. Though, according to national basketball recruiting analyst Evan Daniels, Christmas has “more offensive tools than people give him credit for.”

Christmas chose the Orange over Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, Georgetown, Rutgers and Florida International, despite the fact that he was looking for a warm-weather school.  

Carter-Williams is a versatile guard out from Hamilton, Mass. 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,” said college scout Tom Konchalski.

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, though he did say SU head coach Jim Boeheim has told him he will be primarily a point guard.

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 pounds. To play in the rugged Big East, Carter-Williams will need to gain muscle to his skinny frame.

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

Carter-Williams chose Syracuse over Providence, Boston College, Temple and UMASS because he felt at home during his campus visit, and he loved the coaches and players he said.

Cooney is a shooter out of Wilmington, Del., and was the first of the group to commit. He picked Syracuse over Big East foes, Notre Dame, West Virginia, and Villanova as well as Maryland. He is ranked seventeenth amongst shooting guards and sixty-seventh in the in the class of 2011, according to the ESNPU Top 100.

First and foremost, Cooney is a three-point marksman. He excels at running off screens and shooting off the catch or after one or two dribbles. However, unlike most players who serve the role of a shooter, Cooney can also use his athleticism to penetrate. At the same time, Cooney doesn’t always take advantage of his athletic abilities.

“He almost pigeonholes himself into the role of a shooter, when he has the ability to do more than that,” Schwartz said.

Cooney – who said he models his game after Ray Allen and J.J. Reddick – 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.

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