CHICAGO: C.J. McCollum spent four years as a journalism major at Lehigh learning how to ask questions and find answers. He put that to good use at the NBA combine, when GlenOak High School’s all-time leading scorer did his best to reverse roles with the general managers interviewing him.
“One GM asked me, ‘Are you interviewing me or am I interviewing you?’ ” McCollum said Friday. “I said, ‘It’s my job to make sure I’m informed of what’s going on with your team as well.’ ”
McCollum is a projected lottery pick with a chance to be selected in the top 10. He is trying to follow in the footsteps of Damian Lillard and Steph Curry, two mid-major college players who recently made the successful transition into NBA stars.
Lillard was a unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year this season, and Curry’s dazzling performances for the Golden State Warriors made him a postseason star.
“When you come from a small school, you’ve got to put in more time than the other guys because you don’t necessarily get as much notoriety,” McCollum said. “I already knew what I was capable of, but seeing guys like [Lillard] and Steph Curry play at a high level and sometimes dominate just reassures me that with hard work, I don’t see why I can’t go in and contribute right away and have a successful NBA career.”
McCollum was leading the nation in scoring at 25.7 points when he broke his left foot in a game against VCU on Jan. 5. The fact it happened against VCU and coach Shaka Smart is ironic, since Smart and University of Akron coach Keith Dambrot worked with McCollum from the time he was a boy until around the time he entered high school.
McCollum wanted to stay home and play for the Zips badly, but the scholarship offer never came. McCollum took an unofficial visit to Akron, but said the school made an offer to Zeke Marshall instead.
“It was pretty disappointing when they didn’t offer me, but I was in a great situation at Lehigh,” McCollum said. “I embraced it fully and things turned out well.”
He was twice named the Patriot League Player of the Year, but missed the chance to win it this season because of the foot injury. He spent last week convincing teams that his foot is healthy and that he is capable of playing either guard spot.
McCollum interviewed with the Cavaliers on Wednesday and also spoke with the Washington Wizards. Both teams spent the past few drafts using top-five selections to rebuild their backcourt, so the fit with McCollum is unclear.
In fact, McCollum asked both teams how they envisioned him fitting in when Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters are already established in Cleveland and John Wall and Bradley Beal are together in Washington. But McCollum already had his own theories.
“One of the interesting things in the NBA now is a three-guard rotation,” he said. “Look at the Warriors. They’ve got Steph Curry, Jarrett Jack and Klay Thompson. It’s very important to have a three-guard rotation in the NBA and it’s becoming very successful. I sold myself as the guy who can knock down shots and the guy who can play with anyone.”
The agency that represents McCollum gave him packets on all the prospective teams in position to draft him. He studied their salary caps, learned who will be restricted and unrestricted free agents and learned the names of the men with whom he met.
He also closely follows all the draft chatter on the Internet, making him quick to identify the Cavs’ primary need is a small forward and “I’m sure Otto Porter is high on their list.”
If McCollum sounds like a draft prognosticator, that’s sort of the point. He was sports editor of the student newspaper at Lehigh (but didn’t cover the men’s basketball team because of the obvious conflict of interest) and he wants to be a sports writer or television analyst after his basketball career is over.
He is hopeful that second career will have to wait a few years. At 6-foot-3, he is an explosive scorer who can also handle the ball, allowing him to play either guard spot. He would love the opportunity to return home and play for the Cavaliers, and even though the Cavs have more pressing needs in other areas, they have made it clear to all involved they will take the best player available in next month’s draft. At 6-3, however, he remains small for a shooting guard.
“It’s more about what you have on the inside. You can put a basement and a ceiling on a guy, but you can’t really judge their heart or work ethic. I look forward to fulfilling any role that’s necessary.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.