CHICAGO — Rakeem Christmas scans the room, his eyes darting back and forth toward the various clusters of crowds surrounding some of the other prospects gathered in the back of the Quest Multisport Complex. The throng around Pat Connaughton seems to be getting bigger, as the former Notre Dame star answers the 100th question about his baseball career.
Christmas then turns his attention to a team beat writer who sees an opportunity to get some one-on-one time, and the reporter asks the Syracuse forward one too many questions about the NCAA investigation that led to the team losing 12 scholarships over the next four seasons – and kept the senior from having any chance at finishing his career with one more memorable ACC Tournament due to a self-imposed post-season ban.
“It was rough in the beginning,” Christmas said, referring to the Syracuse investigation. “But after a couple days, you realize I’ve been to the tournament three times, went to the Final Four my sophomore year. A lot of people haven’t done that. I’ve been there. I’ve done it. This year, realizing I can go out there and just keep playing, the rest of those last games I was just playing for an opportunity to get ready to play in the NBA.”
To his credit, Christmas handles the questions respectfully and with a great deal of patience, especially considering he just finished playing a glorified AAU pickup game in front of media, scouts and team executives. It’s May 14, Day 1 of the NBA Draft Combine, and if things seem a little hectic now, there’s plenty of craziness to come in the next two months.