Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum is a shooter, talker

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 26, 2013 - 6:31 AM

Guard C.J. McCollum is in the Wolves' sights and said he is "a very unique player" who "can play alongside anybody."

A journalism major who foresees a broadcasting career when his playing days end, Lehigh senior guard C.J. McCollum gives as good as he gets during interviews with NBA team executives leading to Thursday’s NBA draft.

“One GM asked me, ‘Are you interviewing me or am I interviewing you?’ ” McCollum said. “I told him it’s my job to be informed on his team as well. You’ve got to be a student of the game.”

That is why he asked Washington Wizards representatives if they believe he could play alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal and why he asked Cleveland Cavaliers executives how he would fit with Kyrie Irving.

It’s also why he knows something about Timberwolves draft history, and how his presence Thursday night vexes the Minnesota faithful four years after another sweet-shooting combo guard from a small school entered the draft.

“Steph Curry?” McCollum asks. “They passed on him.”

Yes, C.J., they did and why don’t you give every Wolves fan a paper cut and pour lemon juice on it while you’re at it?

Curry’s playoff performance with Golden State and Weber State’s Damian Lillard’s Rookie of the Year season in Portland reaffirm that small-school products can thrive in the NBA.

“It’s not where you play,” Wolves President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders said.

Well, it is a little bit.

Maybe not what size school you come from, but it matters what position you play.

If McCollum is still available when the Wolves pick ninth Thursday — a sizable “if” with Sacramento and Detroit picking just ahead of them — then Saunders must decide if the team’s need to surround Ricky Rubio with shooters trumps its need for backcourt size.

McCollum stands 6-3¼ in his sneakers and if asked to choose, he said he considers himself a scoring point guard rather than a shooting guard.

“It’s not about size, it’s more about what you have on the inside,” McCollum said. “You can put a ceiling on a guy but you can’t really judge their heart and work ethic and stuff like. I’ll fulfill any role that is necessary.”

McCollum still is just 21 even though he played all four collegiate seasons. He established himself as one of college basketball’s most explosive scorers with a 30-point, six-rebound, six-assist game against Duke in the 2012 NCAA tournament, then decided to come back for his senior season to fulfill a promise to his mom that he’d get his degree.

He scored 24 points a game and shot 51 percent from three-point range in his first 12 games last season for a Lehigh offense built entirely around him before he broke his foot in January.

McCollum missed the rest of the season, but healed in time to work out fully for NBA teams leading up to Thursday’s draft.

“I’m very mature for my age,” he said. “I went through four years of college and not just any university but Lehigh University, which is a very tough institution. I think I’m a very unique player who can shoot the ball. I feel I can play alongside anybody.”

Including a guy named Ricky Rubio and one called Kevin Love, even if McCollum would be a shooting guard slightly smaller than his point guard.

“I think we’d play well together,” he said of Rubio. “At the same time, they’d have to guard us. You look at the NBA now and it’s revolving around two guards who can shoot and create and score for each other, so I think Ricky Rubio and I would be great, just like Steph Curry and Jarrett Jack and Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis [in Milwaukee]. I like to say I shoot better than some of those guys.”

And he can talk with any of them.

He wants to pursue a broadcasting career when he is done playing and wrote for Lehigh’s student paper — “I’m a pretty good writer,” he said — even if he signed a document saying he wouldn’t cover the men’s basketball team because it would have been a conflict of interest.

“I can’t interview myself,” he said, “but God gave me a nice voice so I’m going to use it.”

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  • With Lehigh, C.J. McCollum established himself in the 2012 NCAA tournament by scoring 30 points against Duke, but broke his foot in early January of his senior year. He has recovered well enough to work out fully for NBA teams preparing for this week's draft.

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