by Adam Figman / @afigman
NBA Draft prospect and soon-to-be Lehigh graduate CJ McCollum is smarter than I am. That’s not something I’m particularly happy about, but it’s true, and there’s statistical proof, so it’s something I must accept. And I have.
This Monday, CJ will graduate from Lehigh University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism. On a Monday in late May of 2010, I graduated from Lehigh University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism. When I interviewed CJ last year, he noted that he made the Dean’s List the semester prior, during which he also led the Mountain Hawks past motherf—ing Duke (!!!) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. He then earned that academic achievement once again this past fall. During the four years I toiled around Bethlehem, Pa. from 2006-2010, I never once made that ever-elusive list. (My first semester I earned a 3.59 GPA, just .01 away from intellectual greatness. All downhill from there.) Damn.
Which is all to say that, seriously: McCollum’s a smart kid. Also a good dude, and one who will probably be drafted somewhere in the Lottery of the upcoming NBA Draft. CJ mostly played shooting guard during his college career, scoring in bunches—setting records in the process—and completely dominating the ball when the scrappy group needed him to, like down the stretch of a big game in which he led the Mountain Hawks past motherf—ing Duke (!!!) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. (Fine: Won’t mention it again. But man, it was awesome.) After missing the majority of his senior season with a broken bone in his left foot, the now-healthy 21-year-old, who is blogging about his pre-Draft exploits at NBA.com and has been impressing the media during this week’s NBA combine, will spend his immediate post-grad days interviewing with and working out for a host of pro teams, one of which will scoop him up on June 27 and then offer a massive contract in exchange for his basketball-playing services. That never happened to me, either.
SLAM: How’s your foot?
CJ McCollum: Doing good, everything’s going well. Been working out for a little. I think I’m 100 percent now in terms of being in shape, game-action, live-action, 2-on-2, 3-on-3, 1-on-1. I had been walking on it, running on it and jogging on it for some time before I was fully cleared, so I was comfortable with the movement and everything like that, [working out] was just about trying to get back into basketball shape.
SLAM: Think the time away will have any effect on your Draft stock?
CJ: Nah, I don’t think it’ll have any effect on it at all. I’m healthy and I’m fully cleared. The injury gave me a lot of time to kind of revamp my game and add to my arsenal, and work on my weaknesses and improve my strength and other aspects of my game. I think the injury was a blessing in disguise—it’s helped me a lot. Ultimately it’ll help me on Draft night.
SLAM: Do you pay attention to mock drafts?
CJ: I don’t really read too much into that—it’s just one man’s opinion. It’s really too early, and a lot of things are still to be determined, in terms of the Lottery and where teams are selecting. Besides people tweeting at me and stuff like that, I don’t really dig too much into it.
SLAM: Do you get a lot of fans tweeting at you about playing for their teams?
CJ: Yeah, or they’ll screenshot a Chad Ford mock draft and say, ‘I want you here! Chad thinks you’re coming, so hopefully you’re ready.’ Stuff like that.
SLAM: The two obvious NBA comparisons for you are Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard—like you, both came from mid-major schools and both are 6-3 guards who scored a ton in college. Curry had a great postseason and Lillard just won Rookie of the Year. Does that help bring attention to you?
CJ: I think they laid the blueprint for not only myself, but all mid-major-type players. It shows we can play and succeed at the highest level, regardless of the type of athletes we face in college and the type of competition we faced. We’re just as good. I’m glad they are playing well because it definitely helps me out.
SLAM: Tell me a little about the agent-picking process.
CJ: That was very tough, man. I’m glad it’s over with now. Very, very tough process in terms of trying to pick what’s right for you. A lot of different companies can do a lot for you, but it’s all about finding what you feel compatible with. I feel Excel is the right company for me. They’re a good company, good history. They have a really good marketing program in place. Just felt like it was the right fit for me.
SLAM: You’re the leading scorer in the history of the high school you attended (GlenOak in Canton, Ohio), right?
CJ: Yeah, I’m the leading scorer. I edged out Kosta Koufos by a little bit, mainly because he broke his foot senior year, so he missed a little bit of time. But I did most of my damage junior and senior year—I didn’t really play freshman year.
SLAM: Are they retiring your jersey?
CJ: That’s a good thing that you should put in [your story]. I would love for my jersey to be retired. Put my athletic director in there and ask him if they’re gonna retire it. [Sure: Yo Scott Garcia, what’s the deal?—Ed.] I know they retired Kouf’s, so hopefully they’ll do that.
SLAM: One of the bigger aspects of your back-story is getting overlooked by a lot of colleges after high school, then going to Lehigh and exceeding any expectations—have you heard from any of the coaches from the schools that passed on you?
CJ: No, but it’s funny you say that: Right before we played VCU I talked to Shaka [Smart] for a good while, and Akron [where Smart coached from ’03-06] recruited me but they only had one scholarship and they gave it to Zeke Marshall. I guess you could kinda say they chose him over me. I talked to Shaka a little bit and he told me about how he gives [Akron Coach Keith] Dambrot a tough time, and how he should’ve just gave me a scholarship there.
SLAM: Have any NBA players reached out during the past few months, giving advice or wishing you luck?
CJ: I speak to Dame Lillard every now and again, just ask him about NBA life and the combine and just about what the transition is like. At some point I’ll hit up Kosta to see how he’s doing—I know they just lost in the Playoffs so I’ll let him breathe, let him get over the season. Besides that I’ll probably reach out to a couple players from Excel and just keep it moving.
SLAM: So, you’re graduating soon.
CJ: Yeah, graduation is May 20.
SLAM: And Bill Nye the Science Guy is the commencement speaker at Lehigh this year. That’s cool as hell.
CJ: Yeah! [Laughs] I used to watch him as a kid. It’ll be nice to see him again. I was very young, but he sticks with me from that show.
SLAM: What are you hoping to get out of the Rookie Transition Program?
CJ: That’s gonna be great, I’ve heard a lot of great things about that in terms of how it prepares you for the day-to-day lifestyle, time management, money, etc. That’s gonna be great. It’ll be fun to get to go through that and get to meet different types of people from different places.
SLAM: Last question, and it’s important: Are you gonna wear something absurd to the Draft?
CJ: Nah, I don’t foresee myself wearing anything crazy. I’m not that type of person—I’m pretty laid back. I’ll be in something nice, hopefully it fits me right and hopefully everyone likes the way it looks. It won’t be anything flashy.