The Suburbanite
  • Sunday Special: McCollum is class on, off the court

  • C.J. McCollum can play, but he’s a better representative for himself, family and hometown.

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  • When C.J. McCollum met with reporters in Portland for the first time since the Trail Blazers made him the 10th overall pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft, those media types should have known a little about McCollum’s background.
    He’s a journalism major, and after the very first interview, he had to correct them.
    A reporter mistakenly addressed McCollum as Trey, possibly a slip of the tongue since Michigan’s Trey Burke was taken one pick in front of McCollum. After McCollum answered the question, he politely corrected the reporter at the end of his answer.
    “My name is C.J. McCollum,” he said.
    Reporters in Portland are going to find McCollum is easy to work with, and he’s probably as intelligent about their jobs as they are.
    Portland was the best scenario for McCollum, who is considered a 6-foot-3 combination guard in the NBA. He will get to play alongside defending Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, with whom McCollum developed a pretty good relationship over the last year through Twitter and text messaging.
    “It’s a blessing to be able to play in the NBA,” McCollum said. “It’s even more of a blessing to be able to play with the Rookie of the Year, a guy you can learn from. A guy who has been in similar situations as you. He’s had a huge impact his rookie year.
    “I’ve got a lot to learn from him and I look forward to it.”
    Portland likes pairing McCollum with Lillard because it gives them a definite strength in the backcourt. Also, McCollum’s shooting ability off the dribble and his willingness to share the ball should make for a nice combination in Portland.
    But McCollum said the best piece of advice he received from Lillard was to be himself once he is in the NBA. And McCollum did that in meeting with writers and media types for the first time late in the week.
    He won the crowd over.
    “I’m willing to play a role and do whatever is necessary to win,” McCollum said. “I am going to contribute in some way, form or fashion and I’m going to play at a high level at some point. I’m confident in saying that because I’m going to work hard and do whatever is necessary.”
    General Manager Neil Olshey said McCollum was Portland’s target from the start of the draft and the Blazers were a little surprised McCollum was still there at 10.
    “We had him higher on our board,” Olshey said. “C.J. has been our guy for a very long time, but I didn’t think there was any way we were going to get him.”
    Page 2 of 3 - What some who have been critical of Portland’s drafting McCollum — not because he can’t play, but because some believe he’s a clone of Lillard — don’t know is McCollum is smart enough and good enough to complement Lillard.
    In fact, McCollum did Lehigh University proud in not only becoming the first player from the school ever to be drafted, but also in how well he represented himself, his family and his hometown after the draft. McCollum was the most-intelligent and well-spoken player interviewed on draft night.
    I’d be surprised, so long as McCollum stays healthy, if he doesn’t have a long and prosperous NBA career. He’s a smart young man, who is willing to put in the work to make himself into a great NBA player.
    Growing up in the Plain Local School District, McCollum’s first sport that he excelled in was baseball. He was a pitcher with a good arm. However, he quickly became bored with the slow-paced sport.
    T.J. Sutton, who plays baseball for Kent State and went to the College World Series last year, never played baseball with McCollum because Sutton grew up in the Lake district. However, he remembered McCollum joking about playing catch with him when the two were basketball teammates at GlenOak.
    “He always joked about playing baseball,” Sutton said.
    It’s pretty amazing that the GlenOak team they played on had two future NBA first-round picks and a player who played a key role in Kent State’s College World Series trip last summer.
    “The only for-sure Division I prospect was Kosta,” Sutton said of Memphis Grizzlies center Kosta Koufos. “The thing me and C.J. learned from (Koufos) was work ethic. Kosta was always in the gym. The same goes for C.J. Me and him, we were both the little guys. Now I’m the little guy, C.J.’s the big guy and Kosta is the extra large guy.”
    There is a decent chance that Sutton will get a shot at a professional baseball career when his college days are over, too.
    McCollum is the third active professional athlete from GlenOak High School now. He joins former high school hoops teammate Koufos in the NBA. Brian Hartline is a receiver for the Miami Dolphins, which gives the Golden Eagles the most professional athletes right now among Stark County high schools.
    Who was the last Stark County school to have three active professional athletes representing it in at least two of the three major sports leagues?
    Negotiating rookie NBA contracts doesn’t leave a lot of room for haggling because of the collective bargaining agreement, but some have wondered what kind of contract is McCollum looking at.
    Page 3 of 3 - Good question.
    Last year’s 10th overall pick, Austin Rivers (also a 6-4 guard) reportedly signed a three-year contract worth nearly $5.9 million and getting $1.9 million this past season. McCollum can look for the same kind of deal with a raise of about 10 to 15 percent.
    When the Denver Nuggets traded Koufos to Memphis during the draft, the team did the
    7-foot-1 GlenOak product both a favor and at the same time showed him respect. The reason Koufos became expendable is Denver has a lot of money in JaVale McGee and Koufos started last season in front of him. By trading Koufos, it makes the path easier for the guy they invested $44 million in over four years.
    But at the same time, Denver General Manager Tim Connelly said trading Koufos wasn’t an easy decision. He really came into his own last season.
    “It was not an easy trade,” Connelly said. “Koufos is a consummate professional and a great kid.”
    Koufos likely will work himself into the same starting role with Memphis.

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