Looking For Love With CJ McCollum
CJ McCollum was officially introduced to the Portland media Monday morning in the Harry Glickman Media Center at the Rose Garden. It was a relatively brief event, if for no other reason than there will be plenty of time for everyone to get to know McCollum throughout the course of his rookie season.
And really, the most important introductions had already been conducted weeks ago when McCollum met with Paul Allen, Neil Olshey and the rest of Portland's front office during a workout on June 10. It was during that meeting that both parties seemed to realize that there was a bond worth pursuing.
"The biggest thing coming out of college is that you want to go where you're wanted," said McCollum. "You don't want to be somebody's second option or third option, looking at him like, 'Oh, he's there, let's take him.' You want to be like, 'That's the guy!' I feel like this is a situation where they wanted me and I wanted them. It was mutual love."
Which is much like the relationship that McCollum encountered when he committed to Lehigh. Undersized in high school, McCollum didn't get many offers to play college ball, so if he was going to have an opportunity to play in the NCAA, someone was going to have to fall in love. It's a good thing that his approach to the game, his determination and willingness to assess and overcome obstacles, is a trait that good coaches find incredibly lovable.
"He was a guy that was in the gym every day," said Matt Logie, who recruited McCollum to Lehigh and coached him there for two years as an assistant before taking the head coaching job at Whitworth College in Spokane. "He knew how to workout. He wasn't just getting shots up, he was working on his game.
"I had a chance to see it come all together on the court, despite the fact that he was a little smaller in size and stature at that time, I felt like his skill level was really high and that his upside would be really high-level for our conference, especially if he did grow into his body and match the size and athleticism of his older brother, Erick. I think it's a combination of what you see today, his knack for scoring and his aggressiveness on the court (that got him drafted), but also his humility and willingness to work for those results really stood out right away."
And while Portland drafted McCollum partially due to who he is as a person (Neil Olshey opened Monday's press conference by saying "We're really pleased with CJ, not only as a player but as a person, the type of character he brings to our organization, he helps build our culture"), it's that skill level he exhibited in college and during predraft workouts that gave the Trail Blazers the confidence to be the first NBA team to draft a player out of Lehigh.
"By the time his sophomore year was done when I left Lehigh I felt very strongly that he was an NBA player," said Logie. "There wasn't a doubt in my mind having seen what he accomplished first-hand those first couple of seasons and how hard he worked. Everything that he's accomplished these last two years, including putting Lehigh on the map a little bit more and that performance against Duke in the NCAA Tournament, these things don't surprise me.
"I can't say that I'm surprised now but I certainly didn't know that he would be here five years ago when we were recruiting him initially."