YEARS FROM now, 10,000 people will claim they were there.

As for the star of the show . . . good luck getting him to admit he was even on the premises.

Some athletes can talk about themselves for hours, days, weeks, forever. In response to each question tossed his way last night, Rakeem Christmas barely broke the 5-second mark.

Hey, the kid has been through a lot in just under 3 years.

Not bad things. Merely head-spinning developments.

As a seventh-grader, Christmas was living on the Caribbean Island of St. Croix and mostly staying in the house, he said, "because it was just too hot."

Now, if you search for his name on the good, ol' Internet, you'll find him mentioned on lists of the nation's very best sophomore basketball prospects.

"Yes, it's exciting. Kinda," he said, smiling.

In his first Catholic League start for the defending champion, North Catholic, and with the holiday 6 days away, the 6-9, 225-pound Christmas gave the spectators in the Falcons' impressively refurbished Pit an impressive present.

Not only did he record a triple-double, he achieved that accomplishment with 50 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Scott Slade, a sophomore forward for Monsignor Bonner, attempted a right-baseline jumper. Christmas sent it back to Thanksgiving. It was his 10th block and by that juncture, he also owned 10 rebounds and 14 points.

As the Falcons stormed to victory, 67-52, in the Red Division opener, Christmas finished with 16 points, 13 boards and the 10 rejections. He shot 8-for-10 from the floor.

Three of his baskets came on no-way-anybody-coulda-stopped-'em dunks. But he also drained a couple of 10-foot baseline jumpers and hit a semiturnaround from inside the lane, within sniffing distance of the foul line.

Philly is able to call Christmas its own mostly because of dumb luck.

Rakeem said his aunt, Amira Joseph, also a St. Croix native and now only in her mid-20s, attended Drexel and decided to live here upon graduation. That was all Rakeem needed to hear. He'd made occasional visits anyway and, zip! . . . he moved in with Amira in deep Southwest Philly, not far from the airport.

He spent the eighth grade at Pepper Middle School, literally within footsteps of new hoops power Communications Tech, but opted for North for the education and because he'd gotten to know some of the Falcons on the basketball trail.

In North's recent game against Imhotep Charter, Christmas had a bah-humbug experience: He received just five offensive touches.

Coach Mike McCarron ordered his Falcons to be more aware of Christmas' presence in future outings and to make sure to involve him. The message was taken to heart.

"When I get the ball, I try to do good things," he said.

Like, light up video cameras.

As a freshman varsity member, Christmas played sparingly to not at all. Of course, there was some frustration. Like any hot prospect, he wanted to get started and see what he had. But he also understood.

"I tried to learn from the seniors," he said. "Since last season, I've been working to get better at my jump shot. And lots of other things."

Despite all the blocks, he was hit with just three personals. So, what's the secret to successful shot-punchin'?

"I just jump and look for the ball," he said.

Can't you hear that now in gyms across America? "OK," all the coaches are saying, "to be a great shot-blocker, just jump and look for the ball."

Christmas posted almost all of his production in a 13-9 first quarter and an 18-6 third quarter.

McCarron received good moments from everyone in his eight-man rotation. Jack O'Neill totaled 17 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Woody Redding dished six assists. Bob Makor and Mike Terry halved six assists. Josh Stevens mixed nine rebounds and three assists. Jaleel Mack had eight points, three boards, two dishes and two thefts. John Dever barely had a chance to step onto the court before he registered two rejections.

Very late, quarterback Dennis Logue excited his football buddies by collecting two points.

Slade (13) and Keefer Francis (12) led Bonner in points. Henry Smith had eight points and four steals.

Christmas was receiving mail from major Division I colleges as early as last school year.

That had to be exciting! Which school contacted him first?

"Um, not sure. Can't remember," he said. "My aunt handles all the college stuff."

Then he paused and smiled.

"It did surprise me, though," he said. "Getting attention like that so early."

It's onnnnnnnnly beginning, big guy. *