Syracuse Orange forward C.J. Fair has grown accustomed to flying under the radar.
When he was in high school, Fair suffered a knee injury as a junior and missed the season, which meant plummeting in the recruiting rankings despite being a silky smooth, super athletic forward from Baltimore.
Fortunately for Syracuse and Jim Boeheim, the Orange have had some success with small forwards from Baltimore over the past decade, particularly with a guy named Carmelo Anthony, and Fair signed with Syracuse and has become one of the most consistent players in America.
Last season, Fair was overshadowed by the likes of Michael Carter-Williams, a lottery pick of the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2013 NBA Draft, and he was hidden behind players like Dion Waiters and Kris Joseph before that.
Last year, Fair finally got his chance to start and established himself as one of the top small forwards in the country. At 6-foot-8 and 215 pounds, Fair has great size for the position and despite his high school knee injuries, he’s recovered fully and proven to be a superb athlete. Just ask lottery pick Otto Porter, who Fair posterized in Syracuse’s final Big East Conference matchup with hated rival Georgetown University.
Still, because the lefty’s game is based on efficiency more than flash, he has remained something of an unknown even though he helped lead Syracuse to the Final Four last season. Ask anyone outside of the northeast about Carl Fair, Jr. and they’ll likely think you’re talking about a guy who sells Thickburgers.
Over his career at Syracuse, he’s gone from being simply a spark off of the bench to a bona fide star, expanding his game each season. Last year, he led the Orange with 14.5 PPG and pulled down 7.0 boards on a nightly basis, but most impressive was his .469 3-point percentage on 64 attempts.
His shooting stroke from 15 feet and in was rarely questioned leading into last season, but his expanded range made him truly one of the most dangerous forwards in America.
Even though the Orange were bounced from the Final Four by a strong Michigan Wolverines squad led by Trey Burke, Fair proved he belonged on the big stage by pouring in 22 points in the loss. This season, as the Orange enter the Atlantic Coast Conference, coach Boeheim will be looking to Fair to lead the squad against the likes of Duke and North Carolina, and he should immediately be one of the heavy favorites to contend for the honor of being named the ACC Player of the Year.
The funny part is that despite his talent, athleticism and poise, he still may be overshadowed even as a senior and the focal point of the Syracuse offense this season. Sophomore forward Jerami Grant is one of the hottest young forward prospects in the nation and has been shooting up NBA Draft boards, and freshman point guard Tyler Ennis will no doubt grab the spotlight early as the successor to Carter-Williams.
But being ignored once again will be nothing new for Fair, because at the end of the day, it’s only the casual fans who may not know all about his game and just how dangerous he is. It’s a safe bet that each and every opposing coach in America knows precisely how good Fair is, and will be positively giddy when the clock hits zero and they no longer have to worry about how much damage he may do against their team.