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October 29, 2014

Rakeem Christmas

Trevor Cooney


Q.  Trevor, this season a lot more has been asked of you this year.  Last year you had to step up, as well.  As you progress throughout your time at Syracuse, what can you say about how you define yourself and how you look at the leadership role?
TREVOR COONEY:  I mean, this year I know I'm going to have to step up and the ball is going to be in my hands a little bit more this year.  I knew it was going to be last year, so I worked on it a lot on the off‑season, and I expanded my game.  I made huge improvements last year, and I look to make those improvements this year.
On the leadership role, I took a big step in being a big leader last year on the team and being another older guy on the team.  I look to take the same approach this year.

Q.  A lot of people have the expectation of the three‑point shot, but people that know your game know you can do a lot more defensively, as well as attack.  What have you done to work on that in the off‑season and in practice to be more of that all‑around player?
TREVOR COONEY:  I mean, I like to hang my hat on defense.  I know that defense is going to keep me on the floor and keep me playing and keep me in the games rhythm‑wise.  And if you can play good defense, you're going to be in any game that you're playing in.  That's what Coach Boeheim tells us, and we go out there and we want to execute the 2‑3 zone well.
If you're going out there and playing hard, defense is going to win you games.

Q.  Trevor, what's going on at the point guard situation?  Are you going to play point?  Is somebody stepping up?  Right now who would be the starting point guard?
TREVOR COONEY:  Right now I believe it's Kaleb Joseph and then Mike Gbinije are our point guards.  Kaleb is a new freshman this year, and he's really good.  He's really talented.  He's really explosive, he's quick, he gets up and down the floor.  He's really fun to play with.  He's just another good point guard that we have at Syracuse.

Q.  Louisville in the ACC this year.  You've played against them.  What's it like at the Yum! Center?
TREVOR COONEY:  They're a great addition to a great conference, really.  It's great to play them again.  They're very well coached, great players, and we had a little rivalry with them in the Big East, so we look to continue that in the ACC.

Q.  Trevor, obviously the first three‑quarters of last season were phenomenal.  The last one‑quarter probably not the way that you would have liked to have ended the season.  Does what happened towards the tail end of last year have any type of motivating factor for the start of this year?
TREVOR COONEY:  Absolutely.  In the season a lot of times teams lose games within the first 10, first 20, but we were 25‑0 and we didn't get to learn from our mistakes early, and we had to learn from them late, and that was tough for us to rebound.  You lose a game, next thing you know you're in the ACC Tournament, you're in the NCAA Tournament, and that was tough for us.  And we didn't get to learn from our mistakes early.
But losing how we did towards the end of last year, that's definitely a huge motivation for us in the off‑season, and it's definitely carried into practice and into the preseason.

Q.  Are there things that you really, really like right now, and are there things you really know you need to tweak?
TREVOR COONEY:  I think defensive‑wise.  Our defense has been pretty good, and it's getting better.  The 2‑3 zone is tough to play, and we have some new members on this team that are understanding it and learning it and getting better every day with it.  It's something that we work on every day, and as long as we keep doing that, it's going to be good because when our 2‑3 is good, it wins us a lot of games.

Q.  You've played with a lot of different point guards at Syracuse.  What can you say you've taken away from the guys that have been there?  And what you've been able to take away from Kaleb so far?
TREVOR COONEY:  Yeah, I've played with almost a different point guard every year, which has been good.  That's a good thing, I guess.  But I mean, all those guys were great players.  They all worked really hard, and you take a little bit from each one of them.  I've kind of done that and I pass it along to Kaleb and just tell him to stay positive and keep working hard because if you do, good things can happen on the floor and good things off the floor, as well.

Q.  What type of impact do you think Rakeem will have this year?
TREVOR COONEY:  Rakeem will have a huge impact on the floor.  I think this year he's a little bit more vocal and he's a little bit more of a leader, and I think he's taken that role on really well.  We've got a bunch of new guys, especially in the post, and he's really taking that role on and taking them under his wing, and I look forward to him having a huge year this year.

Q.  I know you guys are primarily focused on yourselves, but you have some awareness of the other teams in the league, too.  Who do you think look like the teams you'll be competing for a top‑tier position with?
TREVOR COONEY:  I mean, from top to bottom, this conference is unbelievable.  I mean, at the top you've got Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, NC State, all these teams are really good.  I mean, you have to bring it every single day.  Virginia is really, really good.  You've got to bring it every single day to beat these teams and even compete with these teams.  We're looking forward to getting into conference play later on this season.

Q.  Trevor, with a year under your belt now in the ACC and playing some of the big venues, seeing all the teams, what are the expectations for your second year?
TREVOR COONEY:  Expectations this year, I mean, I answered that question last year, and it's just to get better every single day when you come out there and you practice.  And once the games get started, you focus on one game at a time.
Last year we didn't have any expectations to be 25‑0 or start really hot or anything like that.  You can't have expectations like that.  It's just got to be to go out every single day and get better and work hard, and when you do that, good things happen, and you do end up 25‑0.  You've just got to stay focused on the season.

Q.  Was it fun playing in those different venues last year?
TREVOR COONEY:  It was.  I mean, playing in the Big East my first two years and then switching to the ACC, the Big East was more kind of NBA arenas.  You played in big cities, so a lot of the schools are a little bit smaller.  So you played in the NBA arenas.  And now yet you have bigger schools and you're playing on campus.
I think the students play a big factor in ACC games than in Big East games since the venues are right on campus.  It draws more students, which makes it tougher.
THE MODERATOR:  Let's switch to Rakeem.  Thank you.

Q.  There's a general dearth of big men in college basketball, but the ACC has some awfully good ones.  Are you looking forward to the match‑ups with guys like Harrell and Jahlil Okafor at Duke this year?
RAKEEM CHRISTMAS:  We plan on coming out there and give it our all.  I've been working hard this summer just to try to be more aggressive and putting on some weight to go up against them and stuff like that.

Q.  Rakeem, not having Keita anymore, what have you done to improve your game?  Because obviously you've been able to play off each other in the past?
RAKEEM CHRISTMAS:  In the summertime working on my conditioning, getting ready to play longer minutes, working hard on defense, trying to stay out of foul trouble, just working on stuff like that.

Q.  As far as offensively, what can you say you've expected from yourself and kind of worked on in the off‑season and in practice to know that you want to be a little bit more consistent on that end, as well?
RAKEEM CHRISTMAS:  Offensively been working hard in the post, making better decisions, being more aggressive, trying to find open players like Trevor and Kaleb on the wings for open shots and trying to get into rebound position after that.

Q.  Trevor said some really nice things about you.  What do you have to say nice about him?
RAKEEM CHRISTMAS:  He did.  Trevor is doing great in practice.  He's been making a lot of threes.  He's been taking care of the ball.  He's been making better plays and running plays along.  And just like you said, I've been trying to make other big men under my wing and he's doing the same for the guards.  Kaleb came in and helping B.J. and Ron step up, too.
Trevor has been doing a great job, and we're happy to have him.

Q.  Your scoring average of 11 or so per game last year, do you have to be at 11 this year?  Do you have to be more or can the ball be distributed more often?
RAKEEM CHRISTMAS:  I think I have to be more this year.  I have to step up as a leader this year, me and Trevor.  So this year I'm going to try to give it my all and go as hard as I can.

Q.  As someone who got to experience the Georgetown rivalry quite a bit, can Duke‑Syracuse kind of replace that for you all?  And can that be the next big rivalry for college basketball?
RAKEEM CHRISTMAS:  Those two years against Georgetown, those were some big years for me.  That was a big rivalry right there.  Playing Duke last year those two times, those were some tight games, and being able to play in those, that's history right there.  If that starts a rivalry there, that could be good, but Duke has their rivalry with North Carolina, and we don't want to mess that up for them.

Q.  Do you have to start out again 25‑0 to be successful again this year?
RAKEEM CHRISTMAS:  No.  Like Trevor said, we didn't have on our mind we wanted to start out 25‑0.  Sometimes teams need to lose the first few games to know what we need to work on.  When we lost those first games after the 25‑0, it messed us up a little bit and we had to catch up from that.  So we had to learn from our mistakes and put those games behind us.

Q.  Kind of looking at this team and defining it, like you said, last year you didn't expect to start 25‑0.  How do you define the team this year knowing that the expectations for you may be a little bit different than they were a few years back?
RAKEEM CHRISTMAS:  We have a great team.  Like I said, we have new players, Kaleb and Chris, got a lot of players stepping up, B.J., Ron.  We'll be fine.  We've just got to come out here and play our game and we'll be fine.  Listen to Coach, and we'll be great.

Q.  Rakeem, how is Dajuan Coleman looking this year?  How much will you two guys be on the court at the same time, and what can you do as a combo in there?
RAKEEM CHRISTMAS:  Dajuan has been working hard trying to come back from his injury.  He's still working hard, and we don't know as yet when he'll be back, but he's working very hard to come back as fast as he can.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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