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MailTribune.com
  • Blazers' McCollum aims to make Lehigh proud

  • 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.
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  • 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.
    McCollum's latest chapter was written on NBA Draft Night on June 27 when he became the first Lehigh University player ever drafted.
    The now 6-foot-3 guard was taken by the Portland Trail Blazers with the 10th pick in the first round of the NBA Draft at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
    McCollum became just the third senior taken in the first 10 picks since 2007. He also is only the second Patriot League player ever drafted — Colgate's Adonal Foyle was the eighth pick of the Golden State Warriors in 1997. Bucknell grad Mike Muscala later became the third PL pick, going 44th to the Dallas Mavericks, who then traded his rights to the Atlanta Hawks.
    "You have to prove yourself night in and night out," he said. "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, who was joined at the draft by parents Kathy Andrews and Errick McCollum Sr., brother Errick Jr., grandmother Fannie McCollum and agent Sam Goldfeder, has reached this point in his basketball career as much because of his work ethic as for his skills.
    He left Lehigh as the Patriot League's all-time leading scorer and with a degree in journalism.
    Following his announced selection, he left his seat, hugged his dad, then his mom as his brother gave a celebratory fist bump. His grandmother 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 will be teaming with, among others, reigning NBA rookie of the year Damian Lillard, who similarly came from a mid-major school. He was the No. 6 pick from Weber State in the 2012 draft.
    The two guards have become quick friends and figure to work well on the court because of their athletic 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 play in an AAU 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 none of the Division I colleges from Ohio offered a scholarship to McCollum, he stayed true to the one program who 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.
    A broken left foot in Lehigh's game at VCU on Jan. 5 only temporarily slowed McCollum's 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."
    "From my contacts, from what I heard, Portland really coveted him," Reed said. "They think he's a tremendous player. I think it's a great place for him to go."
    Portland finished 33-49 in the Northwest Division of the Western Conference in 2012-13, in fourth place, 27 games behind Oklahoma City.
    LaMarcus Aldridge, Lillard, Wesley Matthews, J.J. Hickson and Nicolas Batum all averaged double figures last season for the Blazers, who have one of the NBA's most loyal fan bases.
    According to the NBA rookie salary scale, McCollum's salaries will be approximately: first year, $1,930,600; second year, $2,017,500; third year (team option), $2,104,300; fourth year (team option) $2,653,523.
    But McCollum has never been motivated by the money. He has always focused on being as good as he can and winning at all costs.
    He said that he doesn't care what position he plays — point guard or shooting guard — or if he starts or not (of course, he wants to start).
    "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.
    "What a special moment," Reed said. "For C.J. to have a childhood dream, to go across the stage and shake Commissioner David Stern's hand, I know he's so excited about the next opportunity as well."
    Guard Andre Iguodala, who played with the Denver Nuggets last season, said on Twitter on draft night that McCollum may be the steal of the draft.
    Portland certainly hopes so.
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