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Lehigh guard CJ McCollum talks about upsetting Duke and his goals for his final collegiate season.
As told to Adam Figman / @afigman
We felt like we could play with anyone last year, and we knew as long as we could get to the Tourney, we had a chance to make some noise.
I had the experience from my freshman year playing against Kansas, so going into the game against Duke I was pretty calm. Read some Bible verses and things like that to keep me calm. I watched Doug McDermott and those guys (Creighton) play—they were playing in the same arena—and it just calmed me down. I saw a focus in my team. Everybody looked like they were ready to play, nobody looked nervous. At the end of the day, it’s just another team, just another game. All we can control is how hard we play, and I think we played hard, and that was the difference. We believed we could win. I don’t think I got a shot until about three minutes into the game, where I came off and hit my first shot, and then knew it was gonna be a pretty good night. I could see the confidence in our team.
When there was about 45 seconds left, I went to the bench and told them to tell our team not to celebrate and jump around. Act like we’ve been here before. I didn’t want to act like we won the National Championship—it was just one game. I wanted our team to be grateful winners, act like we expected ourselves to win. I didn’t want our team to be remembered like that; I wanted our team to be remembered with class.
We definitely celebrated in the locker room, but I wanted our team to really savor the moment and enjoy it, and I think that’s exactly what we did. My phone was blinking red, and my battery was dying from all the messages I kept getting. It just kept vibrating from Twitter mentions to text messages and voicemails. There were like 40 text messages and tons of notifications.
I was getting videos sent to me [from campus], like everybody’s in the streets, trees are on fire, people are burning stuff. It was a bit out of control at first, and then everybody settled down and it became a composed party in the street. Let’s put it like that.
Surprisingly or not surprisingly, at Lehigh University there’s no preferential treatment. It was back to reality on Monday when we flew in: 9 a.m. class, and they expect you to be there and turn in whatever work you missed. Papers, all that. Lehigh does a great job of focusing on academics, making sure athletes stay on top of their work. I had a paper that I turned in right before we left to go to the games. They say basketball never stops, but academics never stops.
I just really looked at the film over the summer, watched it, tried to pick up the type of shots I’m getting in games—a lot of pick-and-rolls and stuff. I want to get my conditioning better. Definitely getting up a lot of shots while I’m tired, that’s one of the biggest things. Being able to shoot in the second half down the stretch, being able to hit free throws, things like that. I basically worked on everything: to improve my lateral quickness and my explosion, to put on weight, lifted, off-the-ball stuff, off-the-dribble stuff. So I basically worked on everything to try to fine-tune my game and take advantage of the last couple months headed into the season.
The mindset now is definitely to build on what we did last year—we’re not content in any matter. We feel like we’re capable of making another run, and we know that we have a tough, tough journey ahead of us. It’s always hard to repeat that championship win within your conference, but we’re definitely prepared to do whatever it takes to get back there.
Over the years, Coach [Brett] Reed had preached that he wanted to not only make the Tournament, but he wanted to make a statement in the Tournament and try to make a run. Now we want to get back again and make one last run at it.