by Adam Figman | @afigman
It’s easy to fly beneath the radar at a mid-sized Patriot League school like Lehigh University, but junior guard CJ McCollum has struggled to do so. McCollum led all true freshmen in scoring in ’09-10, dropping 19.1 points a game while picking up the conference’s Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year honors. The Canton, Ohio native raised his scoring output to 21.8 ppg and grabbed 7.8 rpg as a sophomore, and then spent the summer of 2011 attempting to add muscle to his lanky 6-3, 165-point frame. While on the bus en route to St. John’s for his junior season’s opener—due to an NBA lockout-related TV schedule change, tonight’s Mountain Hawks vs. Red Storm tilt will be featured on ESPN2 at 7 p.m. EST—McCollum spoke with SLAM about his personal goals, how he wound up at Lehigh and why he didn’t take off after his award-winning first year.
SLAM: You were born and raised in Ohio. Who’d you grow up rooting for?
CJ McCollum: Growing up I watched a lot of Allen Iverson, a lot of Michael Jordan. Vintage Jordan though, back in the day. That’s about it.
SLAM: The AI connection makes sense—you’ll be playing an off-guard role this season, right?
CJ: Yeah, pretty much. I’ll play mostly 2-guard this year.
SLAM: Why’d you choose to attend Lehigh? Were there any other schools you were looking at?
CJ: I was recruited by a bunch of schools, mid-majors, but I felt like Lehigh was the best fit for me. They chose me. It was the first school that recruited me hard, in terms of jumping early—I think they started recruiting me my junior year [in high school]. Bowling Green was the first school that offered me [a scholarship], but I realized I didn’t want to play in the MAC. I knew that if I wasn’t playing for the University of Akron or Kent State, I probably wasn’t winning the MAC championship. So once I got away from that, I tried to go to the school where I could get the best education. Ultimately it was Lehigh that provided the best opportunity for me.
SLAM: Then you come out your first year and lead all true freshmen in scoring. No way you knew you were capable of doing that, right?
CJ: I’m not really sure I knew if I was capable, but I knew I’d have a huge impact my freshman year. I worked extremely hard my senior summer, and I knew I’d have the opportunity to get some playing time so I knew I needed to take advantage of it with hard work, and I did just that. I didn’t necessarily think I was going to win [Patriot League] Player of the Year or lead the country in scoring for freshmen, but I knew I was going to have a big year.
SLAM: After you had this huge year, did you think about switching schools to a bigger program where you might get more attention?
CJ: No, I kind of ignored it. I didn’t really think about it until other people would ask me about it—“Are you frustrated?” and things like that. But Lehigh’s a great place, I’ve got a great situation here, so I didn’t want to leave. A lot of mid-major players have been breaking in, guys like Eric Maynor, Stephen Curry and Jimmer Fredette. So it’s possible to make it to the highest level from a mid-major. I didn’t want to get out of here and turn my back on the school that took a chance on me.
SLAM: But you understand why it’s brought up, right? You put up some huge stats and might earn more media attention elsewhere.
CJ: Yeah, it’s a valid point. A lot of people were saying I was going to Kansas because I was talking to Bill Self after we played them [laughs].
SLAM: Are there any guys in the NBA you’re styling your game after?
CJ: I watch a lot of Steph Curry. A lot of Kobe, in terms of his iso-game, and Carmelo Anthony. And I watched Jimmer [Fredette] a lot last year.
SLAM: I know you’ve been trying to add strength and weight. How’s that going?
CJ: Yeah, I’m doing well. We continue to lift during the season, so it’s just all about making sure I’m staying in the weight room and trying to eat properly and keep my nutrition together. I don’t really have a body type to put on a lot of weight, but I can get stronger.
SLAM: What kind of goals do you have for yourself this season?
CJ: Well personally I just want to go out there and be efficient with everything, and improve my numbers in terms of percentages. I shot a low percentage from the field last year [39.9 percent], so just try to improve that and just try to be efficient.
photos courtesy of Lehigh Athletics