Maryland-Syracuse preview: Old friends Nick Faust and C.J. Fair will match up for the first time

Katherine Frey/THE WASHINGTON POST - Maryland’s Nick Faust, right, grew up in Baltimore with Syracuse standout C.J. Fair. The two face each other on Monday night in College Park.

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The sleepovers were held inside a row house on Garrison Avenue in Baltimore, but to kids not yet 10 years old, it felt like a mansion. There was a big-screen television, wrestling on the couches and, after basketball games on the weekends, pizza and ice cream. C.J. Fair and Nick Faust would giggle after bedtime as they thought about the future, and when Faust’s mother went to coax them to sleep, they would slide under the covers and pretend they already were.

Faust was younger than Fair but played up an age group in the local youth leagues. That’s how they met, two hyper-athletic kids playing at the John E. Howard Recreation Center, unaware that the blueprints were being written for a matchup nearly 14 years later. For the first time in their long friendship, Faust and Fair will face each other in a competitive game Monday night when Maryland hosts Syracuse just down the highway from their old stomping grounds.

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“That’s something parents dream of,” Fair said. “They want to see their kids succeed. For us to have that type of family bond and the family we’ve got watching us each game, I know it brings a lot of happiness and joy. For us to be at the level we’re at now, it’s big knowing we stuck with our dreams.”

Nick’s father, Anthony Faust, always saw C.J. as his nephew, and Carl Fair felt the same way about Nick. The rec games were scheduled on weekends, so it was easier for the teammates to spend the night together. At the Fausts, they would order pepperoni pizza and sit on the living room carpet, talking about their favorite basketball players. At the Fairs, a Nerf hoop in the den became a haven for dunk competitions. If there was a game the next day, the lights were out by 11. If not, they were allowed to stay up late — and often did.

Their crew included brothers Antonio and Will Barton, both future Division I players themselves and cousins of Faust, and Josh Selby, who spent two seasons in the NBA and is playing professionally overseas. They were drawn together by basketball and the common desire to be great. Their youth teams employed aggressive full-court presses, and if opponents couldn’t handle the basketball, they would be blown out.

“We’d just sic them on the other team, and they’d go get them,” Carl Fair said.

Sometimes, the conversations included thoughts of high school and college and how they all would have loved to play together. But their paths veered with time. Will Barton left for Brewster Academy in New Hampshire. Selby bounced around between high schools, and Antonio Barton went to Notre Dame Preparatory in Massachusetts. Soon Fair left, too, joining Will at Brewster, and suddenly Faust was the only one left back home.

“It was weird,” he said.

At Baltimore City High, Faust carved his own path. He won consecutive state titles. He averaged more than 20 points per game as a senior. He considered transferring to Brewster, but after a promising summer AAU stint the college offers started rolling in. So he stayed, and when everyone returned home on school breaks, they drove up to Loyola University for pickup games.

Still, Faust and Fair never competed against each other in organized games. They were always teammates first — Fair also went to City for three seasons but was injured when Faust played varsity — then so far apart that it never happened. But now that Fair is in his final college season, an all-American candidate bound for the NBA draft, the time has come. Faust has carved out a niche as sixth man for Maryland (15-12, 7-7 ACC), coming off the bench with boundless energy and tough defense, and he might be tasked with guarding Fair.

Syracuse (25-2, 12-2), meanwhile, has lost consecutive games after beginning the season unbeaten and spending the past three weeks ranked No. 1 in the country. Knowing Fair like he does, Faust expects a focused and angry friend at Comcast Center. And knowing Faust like he does, Fair wouldn’t expect an Orange victory to change anything.

“I think they’ll still allow me over to their house,” he said.

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