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  • LEZLIE STERLING / lsterling@sacbee.com

    C.J. McCollum talks to reporters after his June 8 predraft workout with the Kings. Portland drafted him 10th overall.

  • Keith Srakocic Associated Press file, 2012 C.J. McCollum, the Patriot League's No. 1 all-time scorer, became the first Lehigh player taken in the NBA draft.

McCollum beats odds to be first-round pick

Published: Sunday, Jul. 7, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3C
Last Modified: Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 - 2:27 pm

NEW YORK – C.J. McCollum's story started gaining momentum – if only in his mind – when he was a 5-foot-2, 108-pound high school freshman.

By the time he torched Duke in the 2012 NCAA Tournament as a college junior, his talents were on the mind of every NBA franchise executive.

The latest chapter in McCollum's ascent came June 27, when he became the first Lehigh player selected in the NBA draft. The 6-foot-3 guard was taken by the Portland Trail Blazers with the 10th overall pick.

McCollum became just the third senior chosen in the first 10 picks since 2007. He also is only the second Patriot League player to be drafted.

Colgate center Adonal Foyle was the first, selected eighth overall by Golden State in 1997. A few hours after McCollum was drafted, Bucknell forward Mike Muscala became the third Patriot League player to be picked, going 44th to Dallas, which traded his rights to Atlanta.

"You have to prove yourself night in and night out," McCollum said after being drafted. "That's the one thing I pride myself in. I'm going to enjoy this moment tonight with my friends and family and definitely celebrate and take it all in.

"Tomorrow is back to work, back to business."

McCollum has reached this point in his basketball career not only because of his athleticism but because of his work ethic.

He left Lehigh as the Patriot League's all-time leading scorer and with a journalism degree.

Following the announcement of his selection at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., he left his seat, hugged his dad, Errick McCollum Sr., then his mom, Kathy Andrews, as his brother, Errick Jr., gave a celebratory fist bump. His grandmother, Fannie McCollum, was just happy to be there to celebrate the moment with him.

"God's really blessed the family," Errick Sr. said. "C.J. is a very good basketball player, and he will do well."

McCollum, who participated in a predraft workout with the Kings, will team with 2013 Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, who also came from a midmajor school. He was the No. 6 overall pick from Weber State.

The two guards have become friends and figure to work well on the court because of their skill sets and unselfishness.

"It's a blessing to be able to play with the rookie of the year," McCollum said. "A guy who has been in similar situations. He's where I'm trying to get."

McCollum first caught the eyes of then-Lehigh assistant coach Matt Logie, who saw him in an Amateur Athletic Union tournament. McCollum then confirmed Logie's instincts by scoring 54 points in the first game of his junior season at Glen Oak High School in Canton, Ohio.

When no Division I colleges in Ohio offered him a scholarship, he stayed true to the one program that was there from the start – Lehigh.

A few days after Mountain Hawks head coach Brett Reed weathered a tornado to make an Ohio house call, McCollum committed to Lehigh.

As a freshman, McCollum was instrumental in Lehigh winning the 2010 Patriot League title. He was a three-year captain and orchestrated the Mountain Hawks' win over perennial national power Duke in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

Last season, he broke his left foot against Virginia Commonwealth on Jan. 5, but the injury only temporarily slowed his drive toward an NBA future.

Despite the unpredictable early first-round picks, the McCollum clan felt comfortable C.J.'s time was coming sooner rather than later.

"We knew he did well during the workouts," Errick Jr. said. "We knew he'd land in the right situation."

Said Reed, "From my contacts, from what I heard, Portland really coveted him. They think he's a tremendous player. I think it's a great place for him to go."

Portland finished 33-49 last season, losing its final 13 games to tie the franchise record.

The Trail Blazers feature LaMarcus Aldridge, Lillard, Wesley Matthews, J.J. Hickson and Nicolas Batum, who all averaged double figures in scoring last season.

McCollum said he doesn't care what position he plays, point guard or shooting guard, and although he would prefer to start, he's willing to come off the bench.

"I'm trying to fulfill a role," he said. "Whatever is necessary."

If you understand anything about McCollum, it is that he's a team player.

Andre Iguodala said on Twitter on draft night that McCollum might be the steal of the draft.

Portland certainly hopes so.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Tom Housenick



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