CJ McCollum On The Jim Rome Show: Portland's Backcourt Is Going To Be 'A Problem' For Other Teams
A great interview today on The Jim Rome show with Portland's 2013 first-round pick, CJ McCollum. During the interview (which you can listen to here
if you'd rather not read the transcript), McCollum talks about his journey to the NBA, waiting for a growth spurt, being motivated by trash-talking Duke players and how beating them in the tournament was a "career-changer," playing four years at Lehigh, breaking his foot, convincing his mother to let him major in journalism and, most importantly, how he sees himself fitting in with Damian Lillard and the rest of his new teammates.
Before we talk about the NBA and where you are, take me back to your freshman year in Canton, Ohio. At that point you were 5-2, 108 pounds. At that time, was the dream of making the NBA realistic?
"It was defiantly realistic. I knew at some point I would hit a growth spurt, I just didn't know when it would come. My father graduated high school at 5-7 and he's 6-3 now so I was just praying it would come before my senior year.
"But I wasn't really worried about my height because I was young for my age -- I think I graduated high school at 17 years old -- so I knew it was going to come eventually."
You were a start in the Patriot League at Lehigh but you came onto the national scene in 2012 when you scored 30 in the tournament upset of Duke as a 15-seed. What do you remember most about that game?
"What I remember most was some of the Duke players were talking a little trash in warmups and I could hear them. It kind of ticked me off a little bit and I let my team know about it, told them that they didn't really respect us and that we needed to make a statement tonight. That's one of the things that really stood out to me.
"And then, just throughout the game we could kind of see the momentum starting to swing our way and we definitely rose to the occasion. I was thankful I had the opportunity to play on the big stage."
What did you have to say to the Duke guys after the game?
"I didn't say anything. I thought our play did a lot of the talking. I think they understood the message very clearly."
What were the things they were saying to you before the game?
"(Laughs) I mean, it was just normal trash talk but it was kind of elevated a little bit. Just talking about our conference a little bit, telling me I'm not really ready for this stage, bright lights, 'This is the ACC. This isn't the Patriot League.' Stuff like that."
You didn't have to say anything because your play spoke for itself. How good did it feel to play like that on that stage and to shut those guys up the way you did after the game?
"It felt great. It was a great accomplishment. I just was thankful to get to play on the big stage. You come from a small school, a lot of guys either don't respect you or the scouts, people feel like you're not ready for that type of competition just because of the level you faced in your conference. Whenever you have a chance to kind of play on the big stage and get to show your tools it's a great opportunity. I'm sure all the guys at small schools cherish it and try to make the best of it."
Coach K said after the game that you were the best player on the court that day and you just mentioned that, if you go to a smaller school, you cherish the opportunity. Is that how you approached that game? Going into that game, did you know how big it would be for the program and for you personally if you won?
"I knew it was a career-changer for me. I thought I was an NBA-level player before the game but a lot of people had question marks just about the competition I faced and what position I was going to play, stuff like that. But I already knew what I was capable of, it was just my opportunity to kind of show the world. And I told my parents, I told our team, 'This is a very winnable game for us, this is a very favorable matchup. I just need a little bit of help' and my teammates rose to the occasion. My roommate played big, our coach did a great job of executing our gameplan and using the pick and roll, putting the ball in the right guys' hands."
You knew what kind of player you were and had faith that you'd be fine, but what if you had scored eight in that game? What if you guys had lost by 20? Would you be the player you are today? Still a lottery pick? Would it have played out the way it did?
"That's a great question. I think I would still be an NBA player but the perception on the outside would be that 'He's not a big-gamer, he doesn't rise to the occasion. and they would think I'm a different player just because I had an off night. The good thing about me is I live for those games. I like the bright lights. I live for the moment. I knew what was at stake. I knew it was a hit or miss for me. A lot of scouts had that game marked on their calendar and they wanted to see what I was made of. I think I did a great job of displaying my total arsenal."
Are guys who want to be on that big stage, who want to take the big shot, are they born or are they made? Has it always been that way for you?
"I think you're born. I don't think you can turn into a game-changer or a guy with a Kobe mentality. I think you're born with it. Look at a lot of guys across the NBA and you kind of wonder 'Why doesn't he he want to take the game-winning shot? Why is he so unselfish?' I think it stems from hard work and having the confidence in your ability to knock down late-game shots but it's also a mentality. I think some people can change their mentality. They can say 'I'm going to turn into a guy who wants to take over games' but I think it starts from eight year's old all the way up."
You could have come out after the game against Duke your junior season but you decided to return to Lehigh. How come?
"I had a lot of reasons. First and foremost, I promised my mother I would get my degree in four years. And I felt like I had a lot to kind of work on and improve. I wasn't happy with the loss we had to Xavier in the next round. I ended up shooting 4-for-20 and that kind of stuck with me. That was in the back of my mind, I wanted to get to the tournament and kind of revamp my image, show people that I wasn't a one-hit wonder, that my shot is better, my game is better, I can get stronger.
"But at the same time I felt like I needed to kind of mature physically. I was strong, but I wanted to get stronger, kind of build my body. The NBA is a different type of game. You're playing against grown men who want to feed their families at night so I wanted to make sure I was as ready as possible. But at the same time, another year with no responsibilities, just working out, going to class, was great. Now I'm ready for the real world and I look forward to it."
Amazing perspective. Let me ask you: you come back for your senior season, having a great year, then you break your left foot against VCU. The biggest argument for not returning to school is that you might get hurt. You did. Did you ever second-guess the decision?
"No, it was just an unfortunate situation where you ask God 'Why me?' But at the same time, things happen for a reason. I think it was a blessing because I was able to get stronger, I put on a lot of muscle, I kind of worked on honing my skills and trying to perfect the jumpshot and I kind of got to see the game from a different perspective. They say a man is judged my his character and how he acts when things aren't going his way and I think I acted the right way and kind of built a lot more character. I always loved the game but now you truly appreciate every time you step on the court because it was taken away from you for a long period of time in a crucial moment in your life. It was devastating but my mom was with me, my brother, my dad, they all held me down. The Lehigh community was great in terms of supporting me throughout. I knew it wasn't a career-ending injury. Guys like Dame Lillard, Kostas Koufos, tons of guys, Tobias Harris broke his third metatarsal.
"I knew it wasn't a career-ending thing, I just was sad that my college career was probably coming to an end."
You reached out to Lillard, who is now a teammate. He broke his foot in college. What did he tell you at that point?
"One of the biggest things he said was you can come back from it but it's going to take a lot of work. You kind of have to dedicate yourself and make the best of this opportunity and I think I did just that. Taking advantage of your time is one of the biggest things. You can't necessarily walk but you can work on your ball-handling, you can work on shooting in a chair, pool workouts tightening up your upper body. He was great in terms of giving me feedback, letting me know his timetable in terms of what to expect after four weeks, what to expect after eight weeks, when he started doing drills, when he started doing live action. It was good to kind of reach out to him and he was great in terms of giving me good feedback. And then Julius Randle is another guy who -- I think he's heading to Kentucky -- he had broke his foot six weeks before me so I reached out to him and we stayed in contact about our rehab as well."
You and Lillard are different guys for sure but there are some similarities and you have some things in common. How about the two of you playing in the same backcourt and how will that work?
"I think it's a grew opportunity obviously. You've got a guy coming back, Rookie of the Year, he kind of stays the seasoned veteran being 22 years old, having gone through four years of college and having a successful first year in the NBA. I think his ability to score and create for others is going to be a problem, honestly. His ability to knock down shots, use the pick-and-roll but at the same time, now I'm going to be involved in the mix in terms of knocking down shots and allowing him to play to his strengths. When I'm on the court he can score more, I can distribute to him but at the same time, I can make his load easier, knock down shots, kind of spread the defense where they're not helping off me because I'm going to knock it down and I want the team to know that I'm going to be able to knock down shots.
"Then you've got Wes (Matthews), you've got (Nic) Batum, (LaMarcus) Aldridge. I think our lineup is going to be terrific. I think the coach is going to have a great, great rotation in terms of mixing up players and we've got T-Rob coming in, so I just look forward to the opportunity to play in the NBA with elite players."
You graduated with a degree in journalism. You've very smooth, you're good at this. You didn't start that way. When you told your mom you wanted to switch and major in journalism, what did she say?
"She thought I was crazy. She said 'You're going to be a statistic. Your brother got a business degree. He's overseas being successful. What are you going to do with a journalism degree? That's kind of like the athlete cop-out" she told me. I said 'Mom I can honestly write and I speak even better in public and you always said I had a face for TV so I knew I would be just fine.' She made me actually write something for her and once she okay'ed it I was able to switch my major. But it took a lot of work."
Speaking of statistics, a lot of guys in your situation, coming from a smaller school, might be out to prove people wrong but you've said that's not your approach. You play for yourself, you play for your family and "you've got to beat the 4.7 years." What does that mean?
"The average life expectancy in the NBA is 4.7 years and 60 percent of us go broke when our careers are over. And all of that is in the back of my mind. I don't want to be broke; I want to be in a situation where I can provide for my family generation after generation. So want to do what's necessary on the court but I'm also going to put myself in a position to where I can utilize my degree and kind of take advantage of this opportunity. Basketball is a great game and I love it to death but I realize you can't play forever. There comes a time where you've got to put the ball down and you need to have a backup plan and have life in perspective. And I understand my purpose and what I'm going to do with it."
Not many guys at your age are thinking that way. Are these things your parents have been hammering into your head or are these things you figured out on your own?
"I had a great support system. My family did a terrific job of raising me. I had a great role model in my brother so they're a credit to the type of man I am today. But I've kind of developed into a more mature, well-rounded person by just going to Lehigh and kind of getting to see the ins and outs of life. When you stay in college for four years and you're a journalism major, you kind of learn a lot of things just by researching and kind of putting yourself in the position to be successful. I think that's one of the biggest things I've done. Even in high school, I had my guy Coach (inaudible) along the way working on defense and offense and then Coach (inaudible). I think it starts young. It's all about the foundation."
You mentioned your brother who has been playing overseas. What does it mean to him to see you break through and get this opportunity when you looked up to him?
"He's my guy, honestly. He's the reason I am who I am today, from personality to game. He was the guy getting me up to run the stairs in the morning. Now I'm pushing him during workouts and showing him like, look brother, this is what we've got to do to be successful.
"You know, I'm not happy with just being drafted 10th overall. I want more. I want to be successful in the NBA, he wants to be successful overseas and eventually maybe make a transition to the NBA. So we're hungry. As I said before on TV, we came from people telling us we would never amount to anything on the basketball court to being on TV. I'm not just saying that to say it; we really were small, undersized, undervalued and in the situation where we had to work for everything we got."
Is he good enough? Could he be an NBA player?
"I believe he will be an NBA player one day. It will take maybe a year or two. I definitely think he will get there. Our games are similar, he's just a little bit smaller."