Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of sitting down star forward, Rakeem Christmas, for an in-depth interview on what it's like to be a big-time basketball player at Syracuse University. Rakeem was kind enough to provide great insight into the daily lives of the players, spilling details on:
The team's chemistry
- The team clown
- Road trips
- Balancing school/basketball
- Keeping in touch with former players
- His relationship with Jim Boeheim
- NBA/Non-NBA dreams
- His nickname
- His dog
- SU's best rapper
- Filling in for Fab
- His nasty dunk
I heard you guys are really tight. Everyone says how much fun you have together. Can you give me a little more information about that?
Rakeem Christmas: As a team, we just stay close. Off the court, we are always together. We live doors down from each other on South (Campus). We just go over to people’s apartments and just have fun with each other. We go to the mall sometimes, we have parties at our place. We just stay close with each other, we just have fun. On the court, we don’t let anything come between us.
Who is the team clown?
RC: James (Southerland). He’s the biggest clown. He does whatever he wants. He doesn’t care what anybody thinks about him. He’s definitely the biggest clown.
What does he do?
RC: He just does random things. He’ll just say something random out of nowhere. If you’re asleep, he’ll just run up in your face and do something. He’s spontaneous. You never know what he’s going to do.
I know you had a good experience on the court in San Diego (Battle on the Midway) but off the court, what’s a road trip like? A plane ride, staying in the hotel, what’s that like?
RC: On the plane ride, everyone has their headphones on, listening to music or watching movies. In the hotel, we get there, we go to our practices. If we have an extra day, we’ll just go around the city after practice. It’s basically a business trip. We handle our business first and if we have extra time, if we are from the area, like James (Southerland) he goes home, if we are in Philly, I’ll go home.
As a student athlete, it must be a big commitment. I’m in a class or two with basketball players and I know I’m stressed out about assignments. How do you guys deal with practices, workouts, sleeping and studying?
RC: We have a good academic adviser. He basically tells us when to go to tutoring and makes sure we are in class. We just get it done. After class we have tutoring and we just get our work done. After practice we go to more tutoring. After that, we just have time for ourselves.
Is it stressful?
RC: It was stressful for me as a freshman, but you get used to it and you know what to expect and you just do it.
Dion (Waiters), Kris (Joseph) and Fab (Melo) are gone. Do you guys still stay in touch with them?
RC: Yeah, I talk to Kris once a month, we still share laughs and stuff like that. I talk to Fab sometimes.
Do they seem like they are different? Have they changed at all?
RC: Oh, no they’re still the same people. They’re just busy and I understand that.
When you’re walking on the quad, you have everybody looking up at you. Do you notice it or do you just tune it out?
RC: I just tune it out and keep it going. The only time I really notice it is if someone stops me and say ‘hey can I get a picture’ but other than that I’m just on my own.
Does it bother you?
RC: It doesn’t bother me at all. We’re athletes here and we just come here to have fun and students like that.
What was it like to get an offer from Syracuse and to now have a relationship with Jim Boeheim, one of the best coaches of all-time?
RC: It’s a great feeling. I came here especially because of Trevor (Cooney) and Dion (Waiters) and it was a great feeling to get a scholarship to come here. Boeheim is a good coach and he wins a lot. He knows what he’s doing.
What kind of relationship do you have with (Boeheim)?
RC: I have a good relationship with him. When I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing, he gets on me. When I am doing what I am supposed to be doing, he still gets on me. He’s just here to push me to be better.
Obviously it’s everyone’s dream to play in the NBA. Syracuse has a good reputation for sending players to the NBA. Is that your dream? To one day get there?
RC: Yeah, one day, but right now I’m just trying to focus on school and trying to get good grades.
If you don’t end up in the NBA, what do you want to do?
RC: I want to work with kids. I’m majoring in communication and rhetorical studies and taking a few classes. I want to give back to the community. When I was younger, I didn’t have a lot of people to help me, so I want to help them.
How hard is it being away from family during school breaks?
RC: You get used to it. Last year it was kind of hard but if you’ve been doing it for a year or two, you get used to it. You just keep it moving. You can Skype them or something like that but I see my family often, they come to the games.
If you could make up your own nickname, what would it be?
RC: Everyone just calls me ‘Roc.’ It’s been my name for a while and they just like it like that.
Last year we heard that Dion Waiters was the best rapper on the team. Now that he’s gone, who has replaced him?
RC: Michael Carter-Williams, he's definitely the best rapper on the team.
What’s something about you that people don’t know? Word around is that you like dogs, pitbulls.
RC: Yeah, I have one. He comes up like once a week when I’m around or if I have time. I just love my dog. I take him to the park sometimes.
What’s his name?
RC: Little Roc (chuckles)
In the NCAA tournament last year, a lot of people looked to you (when Fab Melo was suspended) to fill in. How did you deal with that?
RC: I didn’t think about it much. I just did what I had to do and tried to do the things I was doing before. Just didn’t let it get to me.
Can you talk about the preseason game against Pace? That dunk in the second half was #3 on the (ESPN) Top 10. Did anyone tell you about that or did you just see yourself up there?
RC: My friends texted me about it. It was a good feeling, I've been putting in a lot of hard work and hopefully it shows.
RC: Thank you.