New Blazer CJ McCollum hopes to write his way into contributor status
There's one thing I like right away about Christian James McCollum, who graduated with a degree in journalism on May 20.
A half-hour after being chosen by the Trail Blazers with the 10th pick in Thursday's NBA draft, the Lehigh guard was already referencing "Paul, Neil and those guys" in Portland.
As in Paul Allen, the owner. And Neil Olshey, the general manager.
That's a refereshing self-assurance. The 6-3 senior -- I'm sure he won't mind if I call him "CJ" -- wasn't being cocky, either.
"I'm thankful for the opportunity," he told the media in a Skype hook-up from Brooklyn's Barclays Center. "It's a great organization with Paul and Neil and those guys. A great roster, a great point guard in 'Dame' (Damian Lillard), LaMarcus Aldridge, (Nicolas) Batum, young players in (Will) Barton and (Meyers) Leonard. I'm thankful to be part of that. I kind of knew they were interested in me. I wasn't sure they would take me if I was there at (No.) 10."
McCollum gets a pass on already calling Lillard "Dame." They have a friendship that began through Twitter even before Lillard hit the NBA from Weber State, McCollum said.
"At some point, we exchanged (phone) numbers," McCollum said. "Our relationship is pretty good. It's good to be able to reach out to somebody. This league is a fraternity on the court."
Lillard and McCollum have plenty in common. Both are 6-3 guards (I've seen McCollum listed at 6-4, too) who spent four years at a mid-major college -- Lillard at Weber State. Each suffered an injury that cost him most of a season in college -- McCollum all but a dozen games as a senior after suffering a broken left foot on Jan. 5.
Shortly after Portland's selection, Lillard texted McCollum. He had plenty of company.
"I had 178 texts," McCollum said. "I went through them and tried to find family or close friends or people of importance. He was on the list. I look forward to playing with him. He's a tremendous player. Where he is now is where I'm trying to get. He's a great guy to learn from and model your game after."
A four-year starter at Lehigh, McCollum averaged 19.1 points and 5.0 rebounds as a freshman. He is a two-time Patriot League player of the year and the league's career scoring leader with 2,361 points and a 21.3-point average.
McCollum's career shooting numbers are .439 from the field (but .495 as a senior), .377 from 3-point range and .825 at the foul line.
McCollum said he wasn't worried that NBA scouts would be concerned about the broken foot.
"I have a well-polished resume," he said. "I played 111 games (at Lehigh), started 109. There are plenty of guys who come back from this injury. I was more worried about my college career being over, having to watch my team finish the season. It was kind of depressing a tough time."
Between the eighth and ninth picks of the draft, ESPN cameras caught McCollum doing a little dance at his table. He'd gotten early word he was going to be a Blazer.
"I didn't know they caught that," he said, maybe a little sheepishly. "I knew I was (Portland's) pick, but I didn't know the camera was on me. I don't think I'd have danced."
Now Lillard and McCollum have another thing in common. Both are lottery picks. Lillard, of course, has something McCollum wants -- an NBA rookie of the year award.
"But there's no pressure," McCollum said. "I'm not Damian Lillard, no mistake about that. I'd like to win rookie of the year, but I also want to win a championship.
"Really, I'm just going to contribute some way, form or fashion. I'm ready to help out and do whatever's necessary."
The only downside to McCollum I can see is that journalism degree. Will he come to Portland looking to dislodge a reporter covering the team, I asked?
"My job is to be a basketball player," was his quick retort. "My job to contribute and help the team win games, first and foremost. But I'd be foolish not to use my degree and keep it alive after my basketball days are over."