McCollum Out To Make His Own Name
Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum, just minutes after being selected by the Portland Trail Blazers with the the 10th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, sat down at the front of a nondescript room in the bowels of the Barclays Center to take questions from the media.
At one point during the interview, a reporter mistakenly addressed McCollum as "Trey," as in Michigan guard Trey Burke, who was taken the pick before McCollum by the Timberwolves. McCollum let the reporter finish, answered the question anyway, then made sure everyone in the room knew just who was at the dais.
"My name is C.J. McCollum."
A simple declaration, but an important one nonetheless. After playing in relative anonymity at Lehign, McCollum is ready for the world to stand up and take notice. He's worked too hard to get where he is now to let the credit go to someone else.
"It seemed challenging when I was 5-2 my freshman in high school," said McCollum of his dreams of making the NBA. "It seemed a little closer when I got to college. When I broke my foot it seemed a bit farther away."
But now it's here, and it's time for McCollum to introduce himself to Portland, though he's already got a great ambassador. Damian Lillard has been singing McCollum's praises since representing the Trail Blazers at the Draft Lottery. And with the two sharing so many similarities, the fans in Portland may feel like they've already met McCollum before.
"It's a blessing to be able to play in the NBA. It's even more blessing to be able to play with Rookie of the Year, a guy you can learn from" said McCollum. "A guy who has been in similar situations as you. He seemed like he's where I'm trying to get. He has a great understanding of the game. He's had a huge impact his rookie year… I got a lot to learn (from Lillard) and I look forward to it."
But even though he'll have plenty of help along the way, be it from Lillard or his new teammates and coaches, McCollum wants to forge his own path in the NBA. Being one of the few players to be drafted out of Lehigh is a good start, but there are new challenges to face that are far more daunting.
"You have to prove yourself night in and night out," said McCollum. "That's one of the things I pride myself in. I'm going to enjoy this moment tonight with my friends and family and definitely celebrate and take it all in. Tomorrow is back to work, back to business… I have to get ready for the summer league and the next step, the challenge of being in the NBA."
One of those challenges will be living up to the exceptions that come with being a lottery pick on a team in desperate need of immediate improvement. And while it's a great luxury to be able to learn the ropes from a player like Lillard, there's also potential for McCollum to get caught under the weigh of expectations born of Lillard's rookie season success, especially with so many comparisons already being drawn between the two.
But McCollum, as he made very clear to that mistaken reporter, knows exactly who he is, and has no intention of forgetting as he leaves the Patriot League for the infinantely bigger stage of the NBA.
Said McCollum: "You have to be yourself."
Which is great advice for a rookie to take, especially you're already being confused for somebody else.