By Michael McAllister
Last season, for three key Orange contributors, we saw the glaring flaws in their game. Fab Melo lacked conditioning, confidence, and knowledge of the system. Dion Waiters struggled defensively and had a "me first" attitude. CJ Fair lacked an outside game. However, through two exhibition games and one regular season game, the work they've done in the offseason has clearly payed dividends. Fab Melo
Last year, by the time the under 16 timeout of the first half came around, Fab had already been on the bench for two minutes. He was lost in the zone and with the ball in his hands. After running up and down the court once, Fab was severely winded. In the two minutes he did play, it seemed like he picked up two or three fouls. This year, it's completely different. He runs up and down the court with ease, thanks in part to better conditioning and in part to losing 30 plus pounds. His foot work is like night and day. This year he possesses agility, quickness, and athleticism rarely seen last season. His knowledge of the zone and his responsibilities on both sides of the ball is unbelievably better. But what makes all of that possible is his confidence. Last season he was so afraid of making a mistake and getting the quick hook that it affected how he played in a very negative way. This year he's confident, not concerned about making mistakes, and it's caused him to be more aggressive and productive. Fab has been dominant at times in the interior of the zone. His rebounding has been much improved from a positioning stand point and from a physicality stand point. He's finally able to show the vast array of skills that made him such a highly sought after recruit. Orange fans should no longer worry about the center position this year, as long as Fab keeps it up. Dion Waiters
Dion admitted in the offseason that he had a selfish attitude last season. But he declared he's all about the team now. That is a huge factor for him. If he plays unselfishly and relishes his role as 6th man and offensive spark off the bench, he can bring a dynamic that most teams across the country don't have. No one doubted his offensive abilities last year. He's got an amazingly quick first step, is great driving to the hoop, and can finish with the best of them. But the biggest improvement so far this year, in addition to his attitude change, is his defense. He's more disciplined in his rotations, doesn't over pursue and get out of position. It's very clear Dion spent a lot of time working on his defensive assignments. You can see it on the floor, and it's already leading to more turnovers and fast break opportunities, where Dion is at his best. CJ Fair
As a freshman, CJ showed a lot of things that had Syracuse fans suggesting he was going to be the next star once he was given the chance to start. He rebounded well (especially on the offensive glass), made a lot of hustle plays, was good on defense, and had a knack for finishing around the rim. However, one thing he didn't show a lot of was an outside shot. This year, he's shown it in the exhibition games and against Fordham in the season opener (1-2 from three). His offseason work obviously focused on developing and improving his outside jumper. It's payed off. Add that to an already good offensive repertoire, and he gives the Orange another difficult matchup off the bench.
It's always fun watching players develop from one year to the next. That development is predicated on the players being willing to put in a lot of hard work. All three of these players have shown they have the work ethic to improve the holes in their game, and turn them into strengths that strike fear into opponents.