On June 27, 2013, the Portland Trail Blazers selected C.J. McCollum ’13 with the 10th pick in the NBA Draft, making McCollum the first Lehigh player and second Patriot League player to ever have his name called on draft night.
But there’s more to McCollum’s story than just the sport of basketball.
McCollum may have initially gained fame for his standout performance in Lehigh’s upset win over the Duke Blue Devils in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, but he would go on to gain even more respect for his actions off the court. Given the opportunity to enter the NBA Draft after his junior season, McCollum instead returned to Lehigh with the goal of getting his degree and furthering his education. The NBA, McCollum decided, could wait.
McCollum’s rise to prominence leading up to the draft became a point of pride for the Lehigh community, as the journalism major frequently emphasized the importance of education, family and commitment, not only during media interviews but also in his own work.
As he wrote in a column that appeared in the Sporting News: “By returning for my senior year, I give myself a chance to complete my degree at a prestigious university, while putting myself in a position to be successful no matter what happens in my future.”
McCollum later put his degree to work in a column for Sports Illustrated the week before the draft, in which he discussed the rigors of the pre-NBA draft process and explained that his academic experiences helped prepare him for the challenge. He also wrote blog posts for NBA.com’s Draft Diaries series, including one post that captured the joy he and his family experienced at Lehigh’s 145th commencement on May 20.
Below is a collection of media highlights about McCollum and his Lehigh experience, including interviews with ESPN, Grantland.com, Forbes and more.
NOTE: McCollum will kick off his NBA career on Wednesday October 30, 2013 against the Phoenix Suns. He will make appearances in Brooklyn on Monday November 18, 2013; Philadelphia on Saturday December 14, 2013; and New York on Wednesday February 5, 2014.
“My family and I believe another year in college will be more beneficial for me on and off court…I believe that finishing up my degree at Lehigh University is an essential and pivotal step in the right direction for my future career in Journalism and Sports Broadcasting. Growing up, I promised my mother I would complete my degree and although there is no time limit, I feel like the time is now.”
“Too many student-athletes might treat college as just another stepping stone in their journey to becoming a professional basketball player. With millions of dollars potentially awaiting high-caliber talent, it's not tough to see why highly regarded prospects might leave campus after just a year or two. C.J. McCollum (scouting report) is a different kind of guy. He took full advantage of his full-ride scholarship to Lehigh University.”
“When I saw the look on my Mom and Dad’s face as I crossed the stage at graduation, I knew all the hard work and late nights in the library were worth it! I graduated from Lehigh University a couple weeks ago, and not only did I feel a great sense of pride, but I had a lot of fun!”
While other prospects in this draft ooze potential, McCollum is as polished as they come. The Lehigh product operates out of the pick-and-roll like a seasoned NBA vet and scores with a variety of crafty finishes. But perhaps the most impressive and intriguing aspect of McCollum’s game is his outside shooting. Though his final season was cut short, McCollum shot a scorching 51.6 percent from behind the arc in the 12 games he was healthy. That type of shooting combined with an impressive basketball IQ (he’s just a really sharp kid in general) will make it possible for McCollum to make a Damian Lillard–like impact in his first year.
McCollum is no longer a novelty, the star from the small school, Lehigh University, that upended mighty Duke in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. McCollum is now playing for money, against men, as a Blazers rookie. And he has the expectations that come with being the No. 10 pick, that began with his being the showcased player by Portland during his five games here.
“My interview with Adam [Silver] wasn’t the first time I put my college degree to use as I have reported for NBA.com and Sports Illustrated before, but this was definitely a new challenge,” explained McCollum. ”Adam graciously took the time to talk to me and share his thoughts about hoops, rookie advice, fashion, the future of the league and how to continue honing my journalism skills. It was an amazing experience.”
...McCollum went back to school for his senior year ... then broke a bone in his foot. He spent months hobbling around on crutches, learning to shoot one-footed 3-pointers, wondering about the decisions he had made. Things looked bleak for a while, but now he's projected to be a top-ten pick and says he's far stronger for the experience.
“The journalism major really was a good choice for him,” [Lehigh journalism professor Jack] Lule said. “Because of his basketball skills, he already has been dealing a lot with members of the media. It comes easy to him because he understands the profession. And he certainly will be prepared for life after basketball.”
McCollum, the Patriot League’s career scoring leader, could have jumped to the N.B.A. after his junior year. Some analysts projected him to be a late first-round pick. But he returned for his senior year because he had promised his mother he would earn his degree and he wanted to be loyal to Lehigh. He also wanted to return to the N.C.A.A. tournament.
Think about a journalism major with those major publications already in his portfolio, Lehigh coach Brett Reed said. It's such a wonderful head start for him. That's an indicator of the way he thinks big picture. Even during the midst of all the busyness he's experiencing, he wants to engage and grow in that particular area. He's intelligent enough to be able to do both.
There is no secret to C.J.’s success. He works harder than anyone. He is a gym rat. He is uniquely competitive. When he’s not working on his game, he’s studying the game. He is a winner, both on and off the court.
[C.J. McCollum] has a very high intellect and he’s very articulate. But there’s been a refinement process there within our school. Studying journalism and learning about communication – how to communicate - our professors have done a tremendous job of providing him those types of environment situations. But I think the greatest credit goes to CJ and his family for the type of young man that they’ve raised. All those values and all those skills are almost inherent to him.