Differences in levels of competition are always a hot debate when it comes to WNBA Draft prospect evaluation. It’s no secret that players from Power 5 programs tend to get extended looks as draftees while mid-major players generally face more of an uphill battle to even get noticed, let alone drafted.
Syracuse’s Dyaisha Fair, formerly a standout at the University of Buffalo, has the opportunity to blur these lines, going from regularly stuffing the stat sheet as one of the MAC’s premier players to being asked to lead the rebuild of a once-proud program in the ACC. The 5-foot-5 Fair transferred to Syracuse to continue playing for Felisha Legette-Jack, who accepted the open head coaching position at her alma mater after 10 years at Buffalo.
It was an important decision for all parties. Legette-Jack now has the opportunity to continue coaching a player whose name is firmly etched in the Buffalo record books as she takes over a Syracuse program that went 11-18 last season, while Fair — whose goal was to transfer to a Power Five program regardless — is now on a stage where she can prove once and for all that she belongs alongside the country’s biggest names.
Scorer. Passer. Defender.@DyaishaFair is one of 20 on the Nancy Lieberman Watch List for the best point guard in the country.— 'Cuse Hoops (@CuseWBB) October 17, 2022
: https://t.co/pfgvKBzqCC pic.twitter.com/026kwCKq6I
The potential payoff for Fair is huge, though a good deal of how she’s perceived as a WNBA Draft prospect could hinge on how well she leads the Orange during the 2022-23 season. Her statistical resume is impressive to say the least, so let’s take a look at that before diving into the potential impact Fair can make at Syracuse.
Honors and statistics
Unlike most of the big-name players in the 2023 WNBA Draft class, Fair wasn’t commonly listed as a top recruit coming out of high school. She quickly proved that to be an oversight, recording a spectacular freshman season at Buffalo highlighted by per-game averages of 22 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.8 steals, which earned her MAC Freshman of the Year honors.
Fair’s all-around contributions to Buffalo continued for the next two seasons as she put up massive numbers, averaging at least 23 points per game in both seasons while also leading the Bulls in assists and steals. During her time at Buffalo, Fair made regular appearances on position-specific national award watch lists, such as the Dawn Staley Award and Nancy Lieberman Award. She was also nominated for Her Hoop Stats’ Becky Hamon Mid-Major Player of the Year Award three times.
Fair, Syracuse both have much to gain during 2022-23 season
During Fair’s three seasons at Buffalo, there were few programs more statistically reliant on one player. According to Her Hoop Stats, she posted a massive 34.5 percent usage rate as both a freshman and sophomore, and led Division I in field goal attempts per game both years: 20.8 and 21.4, respectively. While Fair’s overall volume scaled back a bit as a junior (30 percent usage and 20.1 field goal attempts per game), she still had the ball in her hands more often than just about any other player in the country.
The results of this approach, to be clear, grew more promising for the Bulls year-by-year. Buffalo won 61.3 percent of its games when Fair was a freshman, then 62.5 percent when she was a sophomore. As a junior, Fair powered Buffalo to a 25-9 record and its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2019.
The logical question when Fair chose to follow Legette-Jack to Syracuse, then, was if the Dyaisha Fair Show would continue in a Power 5 conference — and, if it did, would it be as successful as it was against MAC competition?
Highlights: Dyaisha Fair records 20 points, five steals vs. Penn State
Syracuse hasn’t played an ACC opponent yet in the 2022-23 season, and its two games against Power 5 opponents (Penn State and Purdue) both ended in losses, so it’s still too early to answer that question definitively.
To her credit, though, Fair has held up her end of the bargain so far, displaying everything that made her such a treat to watch at Buffalo: lethal crossovers, the ability to stop on a dime and can midrange jumpers off the dribble and a reliable 3-point shot when spotting up. She doesn’t take plays off on defense, either, which is especially impressive considering how much continues to be on her plate offensively; she’s recorded two or more steals in all but one game as a member of the Orange.
This checks out with Fair herself, who envisions her role on Syracuse to be about the same as it was with the Bulls, “with increased efficiency.”
Fair put on a clinic in the first quarter— 'Cuse Hoops (@CuseWBB) December 9, 2022
ACCNX https://t.co/oW3jCyw1Hv pic.twitter.com/APqWtXgurd
The beauty of having a player like Fair on a team’s roster — even if that scoring efficiency isn’t always there — is the presence of a player who’s not only been there and done that, but can also act as a building block for a program in flux. In this case, Legette-Jack took the Syracuse job knowing that the program needed to be rebuilt, and in Fair, she brought on a player who is well-versed in carrying teams to success. Even if that doesn’t translate to immediate contention in the ACC, Fair’s play should be enough to at least keep the Orange afloat as Legette-Jack accumulates talent and begins to carry out her vision for the program.
In terms of on-court production, Fair’s role as a high-volume scorer and playmaker may stay the same, but depending on which way Legette-Jack chooses to take the Orange as the season progresses, it could change, too. Fair’s skillset is not one that needs 20 shot attempts per game to be impactful; in fact, should she assume more of a distributor role for the Orange later in the season (Fair currently assists on 26.3 percent of her team’s baskets, per Her Hoop Stats, with a better-than-adequate 2.21 assist/turnover ratio), she may stand out more in the eyes of WNBA head coaches and general managers looking to choose a point guard in the 2023 Draft.
All are compelling reasons to follow Fair and the Orange in Legette-Jack’s first season at the helm. College basketball fans may think they’re well-acquainted with the speedy guard’s game, but her collegiate story isn’t finished yet, and ending it on a positive note would mean good things not only for Syracuse as a program, but also for Fair as a pro.
Watch her play
ACC play will begin for Syracuse on Dec. 18 when the Orange take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (ACC Network), though the juicy part of the team’s schedule won’t come around until the turn of the new year. The Orange will play the Louisville Cardinals on Dec. 29 (ACC Network X) and the No. 8 NC State Wolfpack on Jan. 1 (YES Network), two games that will have intriguing individual matchups for Fair (Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith and NC State’s Diamond Johnson).
Later in 2023, Syracuse’s conference schedule gets even tougher, with games against the No. 7 Virginia Tech Hokies (Feb. 2; ACC Network X), the Boston College Eagles (Feb. 5; ACC Network X), the No. 8 North Carolina Tar Heels (Feb. 9; ACC Network X) and the No. 5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Feb. 12; ACC Network). Fair’s individual matchup against Notre Dame’s Olivia Miles, in particular, will be must-see TV, as well as a great example of the level of competition ACC programs face on a near-daily basis.
All statistics and team records for the 2022-23 NCAA season are current through Dec. 10, 2022.