Believe it or not, Syracuse center Rakeem Christmas says he's 'fine' after postseason ban

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Rakeem Christmas wasn't talking about frustration after Syracuse's loss to Pittsburgh. But his face, and his teammates, said plenty.

(Dennis Nett | syracuse.com)

Syracuse, N.Y. — The world wants to talk about Rakeem Christmas. But Christmas doesn't really feel like talking about the reason why the world is suddenly interested.

He's been left off lists of the country's top 25 players despite putting up numbers that rivaled the best in college basketball.

He was overshadowed despite being a local source of pride, graduating in three years, and shepherding an injured, inexperienced and underwhelming team to respectability.

But on Wednesday, Christmas unhappily became the face of the growing discontent with the NCAA, a senior whose career now has an expiration date because of a self-imposed postseason ban and mistakes made long before he arrived on campus.

"I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine," Christmas said, answering the question that suddenly seems to matter most.

Christmas was all anyone wanted to talk about, even if he declined to enter the conversation.

He left the floor of the Petersen Events Center with his hands upraised. He spoke with with assistant coach Adrian Autry as he walked and his forehead wrinkled in frustration.

He'd been beaten up by Pittsburgh in the paint and bloodied in the game's first minute. Despite appearing to absorb far more than he dished out, Christmas was charged with two offensive fouls. His team lost a close game on a rival floor, an 83-77 decision to Pittsburgh and its loud-mouthed crowd.

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He left the Syracuse locker room with a nostril plugged by cotton and flanked by a Syracuse official who briefly told reporters to limit their questions to the game and frequently interrupted questions with that demand. The official said he had to protect players from getting into trouble with NCAA. He applied that message to every question he answered, discussing the massive amount of physical contact he deals with in every appearance, the four fouls that limited his aggression on defense, and the eight-year NCAA investigation that will bring his career to a premature end.

"I didn't show them that I'm down or anything," Christmas said. "I showed them that I'm good. I'm not down. I'm fine. I told them to keep their heads up.''

Unlike the stoic center, though, Syracuse players didn't hide their feelings for their teammate, the player on the roster who will feel the self-imposed penalty the harshest.

"With everything going on it could have been a different game," Cooney said. "You have to play for each other that's how we should be playing. It comes down to playing for each other and playing for Rak. Being a senior is an honor here. You want to play for guys like that."

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