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Of Parallel Play: Christon and Sumner

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The Musketeers have been shaped by the play of Edmond Sumner and Semaj Christon in this new era of the Big East.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Georgetown Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

What does a Xavier fan remember about a given season?

In college basketball, where we ask, “Is he really still there?” or “How can a freshman do that,” ages, classes, and years muddle together. “Where did they play the Shootout that year?” I asked, “And what conference was Xavier in?” Thinking about 2012-13, I found that only one aspect came to mind.

After going through stats and videos and wins and losses, I realized that this was the season that Xavier missed the tournament as well as the NIT. I remembered James Farr sinking a three to finish Butler in a November game between Atlantic 10 opponents. I realized that this was the year that Xavier sported uniforms with “Sandy Hook” across the chest. I reread about Xavier’s disheartening 60-45 loss to Cincinnati at a dull U.S. Bank Arena, and I relived Isaiah Philmore’s point-blank miss at the buzzer to lose to Saint Joe’s in the A-10 Tournament and end Xavier’s season.

Semaj Christon’s stellar freshman season, though, was what I initially remembered. This season belonged to the scrawny local kid who became a phenomenal point guard at the Cintas Center.

The year after Xavier’s fight with Cincinnati was their first without leading scorers and captains Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons. Christon unquestionably took the torch and became X’s do-everything guy. He led the team in minutes (34.1), points (15.2), assists (4.6), and steals (1.5). The conference named him Rookie of the Year, and Christon was named a representative on the All-Atlantic 10 second team.

Looking back, I remember how entertaining, dynamic, and talented Christon was after his freshman season. I reflect on how he controlled the game and carried Xavier’s worst team under Mack. However, Christon didn’t have a Blueitt or even a Macura. As a result, the team stuttered. For every win against Butler, there was a loss to Pacific. They lost to Charlotte, Richmond, and UMass in conference play before beating No. 19 Memphis team in a February nonconference game.

NBA scouts took notice of Christon’s success. In the spring of 2013, Jacob Stallard of NBADraft.net wrote:

“Christon has the benefit of being a point guard in a shooting guard's body, but his point guard skills do still need work. If he can improve his decision-making and shooting, his length, athleticism, and slashing ability make him a very intriguing prospect who could potentially be a lottery pick in next year's loaded draft.”

The 2013-14 season, Xavier’s first in the new Big East, was even more confusing. Xavier added freshmen Jalen Reynolds and Myles Davis as well as transfer Matt Stainbrook, and Justin Martin developed into a double-digit scorer. More came to my mind when I reflected on this season. I haven’t gotten Xavier’s 64-47 victory against Cincinnati out of my head after watching Xavier make 11 of 16 3-point shots. Christon fouled out and only scored eight points. I remember the roar at Cintas after Xavier upset Doug McDermott’s Creighton team. Christon scored 21, had four steals, and played all 40 minutes.

Still, frustration somehow came to mind when I reflected on the 13-14 season. I remember Christon taking a step up but not a step forward. Christon was named to both the preseason and post season All-Big East first teams, and he increased his point, assist, and steal totals.

Xavier was swept in its preseason tournament in the Bahamas where Christon’s 40 points over three games couldn’t lead to a win. In conference play, Xavier lost to bad Seton Hall at home and they couldn’t prevent Doug McDermott from dropping 30 in a disappointing loss in the Big East Tournament that put Xavier squarely on the bubble. Christon scored 18, albeit on 21 shots, in the World’s Most Famous Arena that night.

Christon’s final game at Xavier was probably the most symbolic. Despite the hype, the talent, and the point guard, after an unexciting regular season, the Musketeers were the last team to make the tournament. Xavier faced NC State in the play-in game. They were down 34-28 at halftime.

Christon opened the second half with a magnificent assist; he fed Justin Martin for a dunk to reduce the deficit to four points. After a Wolfpack possession, Christon banged in a layup and narrowed the deficit to two. After that came a 6-0 run by NC State, and their lead snowballed into a 74-59 victory. Ultimately, it was Christon’s last game at Xavier.

NBA prospects are supposed to have big time moments in college. Jordan Crawford, Xavier’s last draft pick, had two signature moments in only one season: His coming out party at Indiana and his unforgettable swan song in the Sweet 16 against Kansas State in 2012. Likewise, there are several memorable Tu Holloway moments. Tu notched a key deep three as well as some clutch free throws in the same Kansas State game, outgunned Sean Kilpatrick in the 2012 Crosstown Shootout with 17 points, and scored 25 points to upset Notre Dame in the first round of that year’s tournament. All that I remember about Semaj Christon is how good he was. I can picture how he controlled the floor, managed the game, and barreled to the basket.

Christon left me with more questions than answers. Did he reach his full potential at Xavier? Should Christon have stayed in school? Was he capable of commanding a great team like elite college guards Ryan Arcidiacono, Aaron Craft, and Trey Burke? Or could he have been more like pro-ready lottery picks Marcus Smart, Kris Dunn, and Michael Carter-Williams? Were the Musketeers ever really “his team?"

The Oklahoma City Thunder picked Christon with the 55 pick by that June. Over the course of the year, his lottery projection turned into a fringe draft selection. Xavier turned a new page; Edmond Sumner arrived on campus that June.

That was the story of Semaj Christon at Xavier, but it really mirrors the career of Sumner. Taking control over the point as a freshmen. Using innate athleticism, especially their slender build and massive wingspan, to amount points, assists, and steals, finding high praises, numerous accolades, and lottery projections.

How can Sumner lead Xavier to success? Is he capable of commanding a great team like elite college guards Ryan Arcidiacono, Aaron Craft, and Trey Burke? Or can he be more like pro-ready guards Marcus Smart, Kris Dunn, and Michael Carter-Williams? Are the Musketeers really “his team?"

Sumner's style and story at Xavier is almost identical to Semaj Christon's. Is that a bad thing? Should a Xavier fan accept remembering how good they were in 2017, as well as the occasional scoring outburst by Trevon Bluiett, without an "Edmond Sumner moment?" Or, how can Sumner take over during a significant game and make it his own? What will we remember about Xavier in 2017, and how vividly will we remember Edmond Sumner?

Only time will tell.