July 1, 2013
By: Justin Lafleur, Lehigh Sports Media Relations
With nine picks down, the Portland Trail Blazers were on the clock as NBA Commissioner David Stern stepped to the podium. In an instant, C.J. McCollum's dreams became a reality.
"With the tenth pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers select C.J. McCollum from Lehigh University," said Stern.
McCollum's challenging journey from 5-foot-2-inch, 108 pound high school freshman to an NBA Lottery pick was realized.
Along with his personal dreams, McCollum stands for something much greater. He represents those who have been told they can't do something - whether in sports or any other aspect of life. Like new teammate and reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lilllard, McCollum is helping pave the way for the underdogs... those who've been told they can't.
Most people could have never imagined McCollum developing into a top-10 NBA Draft pick, but ask McCollum and he knew he would get to this point all along.
"It means a lot. I've come a long way," said McCollum following his selection. "If you work hard and you have faith in your abilities and dedicate yourself, anything is possible."
That confidence has brought him from being a 5-foot-2-inch high school player in Canton, Ohio to Lehigh University where he gained almost 40 pounds in the Brown and White to put himself in position to be selected. He's certainly had his share of ups and downs along the way.
"The NBA seemed really far away my freshman year of high school," said McCollum. "It seemed a little bit closer as I got to college. When I broke my foot, it seemed farther away."
Confidence was evident throughout his time at Lehigh and should continue to propel him to new heights at the next level.
Before the draft, McCollum was asked by ESPN's Bill Simmons which NBA player he was most nervous to meet and play against. McCollum answered without hesitation, "I'm not nervous to meet anyone. I don't believe in nervous. If you prepare, you shouldn't be nervous."
McCollum's work ethic and overall intangibles have been lauded by many. Several experts have predicted McCollum as the next Rookie of the Year. Portland's selection has received tremendous praise and McCollum's confidence has already shown.
"I'm going to contribute in some way, shape or form and I'm going to play at a high level," he said. "I'm confident in saying that because I'm going to work hard and do whatever is necessary.
"I'm not Damian Lillard," McCollum continued. "There's no mistaking that. He's a terrific player, but we're two different individuals. I would love to win Rookie of the Year, but I'd also like to make the playoffs and win a championship. I'm willing to play a role and do whatever's necessary to win."
Confidence helped lead McCollum and the Mountain Hawks to a historic NCAA Tournament upset over Duke in 2012. Without that belief, Lehigh would have faced an uphill battle. The team's belief started with its junior captain.
"One of the most important things we need to do is continue to have that trust, confidence and belief in ourselves, despite what everybody else might think," said Lehigh head coach Brett Reed prior to the Duke game.
McCollum was more than just a great player for the Lehigh program. He was a winner, and made everyone else around him better. He helped his teammates reach their full potential. McCollum's personality was infectious and his confidence helped his teammates believe as well.
Look at the Duke box score and it wasn't just McCollum. He had a breakout game with 30 points, but his teammates stepped up to the challenge as well.
McCollum is quiet, humble and confident... a mix you rarely find. He's always been gifted with natural skills, but without hard work to get better, those skills could have gone to waste. McCollum started at Lehigh around 160 pounds, but through hard work in the weight room, left at approximately 200. It's one thing to be confident, but you also have to work hard for your potential to be realized.
McCollum declared for the NBA Draft last year to test the waters, receiving feedback from NBA executives. One aspect of his game he wanted to improve upon was his shooting. He was never a poor shooter by any means, but he wanted to get better. Despite breaking his foot 12 games into his senior season, McCollum's shooting proved incredible. He hit 52 percent of his three-pointers (33-of-64) while shooting 50 percent from the field overall (96-of-194). It was just another example of McCollum's hard work and desire to be the best.
"There is pressure, there's always pressure," said McCollum. "I was in the lottery; I come from a small school. People say I'm not supposed to be here coming from Canton, Ohio. They didn't expect me to be in this position. But I'm ready to contribute right away, I'm ready to help out and do whatever's necessary."
McCollum is such good story, not only because he was drafted, but also what he represents. He is a role model, on and off the court. McCollum came back to school to earn his degree. He is extremely personable, as Lehigh fans know, and most importantly, hasn't changed who he is. Even with the added attention, McCollum was himself at Thursday's draft, talking to fans, signing autographs for youngsters and continuing to be a great ambassador for Lehigh, the Patriot League and everything he's ever been associated.
McCollum certainly made his mark on college basketball. Despite not playing in a "power conference," he made history. McCollum advanced to two NCAA Tournament appearances, scored over 2,000 points and truly changed a program. Lehigh was always a strong program, but over his four years as a Mountain Hawk, McCollum helped elevate men's basketball and Lehigh University in every way. Whether he was scoring 30 points, making a school visit in the local community or excelling in the classroom, McCollum's confidence led to great personal and collective success.
"We at the Patriot League don't have as much visibility as a power conference, but with the proliferation of television networks and exposure, players across the country realize you can go to a smaller school and be noticed," said Reed.
"I think our situation with C.J. shows you can go to a great school like Lehigh, get your draft dreams fulfilled and ultimately have a lifelong vision for yourself and have a wonderful career. Lehigh University has produced a top 10 NBA Draft pick who once his career is over, will be set for life using his degree."
Media clips and videos after McCollum's selection by Portland are included below.
Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call NBA Draft: C.J. McCollum headed to Portland
NBA.com Skype interview with C.J. McCollum and Oregon media
NBA.com C.J. McCollum NBA Draft Interview
NBA.com Instant Analysis: C.J. McCollum
Oregonlive.com Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey calls CJ McCollum 'the whole package' (video)
Oregonlive.com Trail Blazers take familiar path in NBA draft with selection of CJ McCollum