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Long before CJ McCollum was one of the NBA’s elite guards, the Trail Blazers star was just a kid with a big dream out of Canton, Ohio.
McCollum told The Carlos Watson Show that he was so “lightly recruited,” out of GlenOak High School that his older brother Errick wrote letters to colleges to help CJ get recruited.
While the odds were stacked against McCollum from the start, the 5-7, 150-pound guard was ready to prove he was more than a baby-faced assassin.
“My brother and my Dad used to tell me you need to be able to separate yourself from everybody else,” McCollum said. “You have to be able to do something better than everybody else. I’m not 6-5, I wasn’t 200 pounds, vertical was above average, so I was like I need to be able to score better than everybody, and that’s what I like relied on. Scoring, being able to create a shot at every level, being able to dribble, and not worry about the guy in front of me, those are the things I really worked on, and I was elite at it at 5-11.”
After a game during McCollum’s junior year in which he scored 54 points and was featured on the school’s front page, Lehigh assistant coach Matt Logie had McCollum on his radar.
It’s only mere coincidence that same game where he dropped a school-record 54 points, McCollum had a bet with his father that he would score 50 points. His previous career-high was 18.
That moment was when the future NBA star began to realize his dreams as a pro could become a reality with hard work.
“After that game I thought, if I can continue to get better, the way I can improve, I can go to the NBA,” McCollum said. “I just had to figure out how to get a scholarship and I knew from there, once I committed to Lehigh, I told people all the time, I’m going to be the first person to go pro from Lehigh. That’s why I’m coming here. It’s meant to be, and it has to happen to somebody and I’m going to make sure it happens to me...
That’s what I told my teammates my freshman year, they were laughing, they thought it was a joke.
- CJ McCollum
The joke was on them. McCollum earned that full-ride scholarship to Lehigh, where he started all but the first two games of his collegiate career. He helped lead the Mountain Hawks to an upset victory in the NCAA Tournament and took home Patriot League Player of the Year honors twice.
Then, in 2013, McCollum heard his name called 10th overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA Draft.
Today the 29-year-old shooting guard has been paired alongside Damian Lillard to establish one of the league’s most feared backcourt duos.
“I think it’s just a combination of a lot of things falling into place. I got lucky, but I was also ready when my time came,” McCollum said. “I didn’t just speak this into existence and didn’t not work for it, I verbalized what I wanted to accomplish and I then I went and did it every day.”
McCollum was putting together a case for a career-best year with averages of 26.7 points, 5.0 assists, and 3.9 rebounds per game for the Trail Blazers this season before going down with a fractured left foot in January.
If McCollum's unconventional path to the NBA tells us anything, expect him to pick up where he left off when he returns to the hardwood.