Everyone knows Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum now
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Forget the power programs that passed on Lehigh junior guard C.J. McCollum. His story isn’t about Duke getting burned, in a 30-point rage of revenge, Friday night by a player it didn’t want.
It’s not about McCollum, who went to GlenOak High in Plain Township, Ohio, being snubbed by the local Big Ten bullies, either.
It’s about not being good enough for the MAC.
Akron was interested.
“They obviously only had one scholarship offer. They gave it to [7-foot center] Zeke Marshall,” McCollum said.
Fun stat: Marshall averaged 10.4 points per game this season.
Kent State gave him a look.
“But they offered it to [guard] Randal Holt.”
Fun stat: Holt averaged 12.7 points per game this season.
Miami (Ohio) recruited him a bit.
“But they didn’t offer me.”
Really fun stat: The RedHawks finished 9-21 this season.
[Y! Sports Radio: C.J. McCollum on upsetting Duke]
So, McCollum settled for Lehigh and the Patriot League. Think the MAC schools might regret that one? McCollum twice has been named Patriot League player of the year, his scoring average of 21.9 ranks in the top five nationally and he has been held to single-digit scoring just three times in his past 87 games.
McCollum delivered the capper Friday night at Greensboro Coliseum, with an entire nation watching his monumental 30-point, six-rebound, six-assist performance. Lehigh became just the sixth No. 15 seed to beat a No. 2 – and its second-seeded victim was Herculean.
Lehigh 75, Duke 70. All because a coach saw something in a prospect that others could not.
“I thought he was somebody that could come in and immediately help us,” Lehigh coach Brett Reed said. “I saw value in a package that wasn’t necessarily as glamorous as you might expect from a college player. I saw talent. I saw a feel for the game, a basketball IQ, and smoothness about him.
“Physically, he was a little underdeveloped and undersized. But getting to know him, seeing his desire – I thought it was more important to really search that talent and character than it was the package that surrounded it.”
McCollum says he doesn’t blame schools for not wanting him. He’s now 6 feet 3, but early in high school, he stood just 5-5 – and was “a little chubby,” he said. He grew to 5-11 by his junior year of high school and became a scoring monster. During his senior year, he scored fewer than 20 points just once.
But recruiting isn’t about high school games. It’s about the summer circuit and AAU ball, and that presented a problem.
“Throughout the whole AAU experience, I was basically a two-guard in a one-guard’s body, being short and being a scorer first,” he said. “It was a little frustrating not getting recruited, but things happen for a reason and I’m in a good situation now.”
What could give him that idea?
Could it be overhearing Duke’s high-profile guards ordering one another to not let him touch the ball? Or, after Duke’s high-profile guards failed miserably at that goal, was it hearing legendary Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski call him one of the top players the Blue Devils faced all season?
Perhaps it was his Twitter account increasing by 1,500 followers in roughly two hours following the game. Or maybe it was his live appearance on the CBS halftime show during Saturday’s broadcast of the Syracuse-Kansas State game.
McCollum is handling the attention well. He has appeared humble in this current spotlight, but he also isn’t shy about offering some refreshing honesty, such as saying on Friday night that he knew he’d be the best player on the floor in the Duke matchup.
The short guy MAC schools didn’t want a few years ago is all grown up now, and he’s on the verge of turning Madness 2012 into the C.J. McCollum Show.
“It’s definitely a strange feeling,” he said. “Not too many people normally watch Lehigh basketball. Now we’re going to be on the national stage and that’s good. It’s good for myself, but also for our team and our league.”
We should have seen this coming. As a freshman in 2010, McCollum scored 26 points and added seven rebounds, three assists and three steals in the No. 16 seed Mountain Hawks’ loss to top-seeded Kansas.
That was the first indication he loves the main stage. This season, in Lehigh’s toughest game, McCollum scored 19 at Michigan State, with eight rebounds and five assists. In the Patriot League tourney championship at Bucknell, McCollum finished with 29 points, five assists and three steals.
“A lot of people don’t see it, but he’s our hardest worker, too,” Lehigh forward Gabe Knutson said. “That means a lot for the team because when your best player is your hardest worker, everybody else looks at that and follows that. It’s easy for a lot of guys to be jealous, but he deserves everything he has and it’s easy to follow a guy like that, especially when he works so hard.”
So as the college hoops world still tries to wrap its mind around McCollum and the Lehigh Mountain Hawks sending home mighty Duke, the inevitable comparisons arise for this group. Is this team built like Butler, which went from Cinderella to championship contender? Or is it the new Bucknell, another Patriot League team with a knack for the big win?
McCollum thought about the question and offered this answer: “I would say maybe similar to Davidson in terms of being a small school, having a solid team, solid coaching staff and trying to make a run in the tournament.”
So, does that make McCollum this season’s version of Stephen Curry, the Davidson star who thrilled the country with his 2008 scoring rampage that nearly landed the Wildcats in the Final Four?
Before McCollum could answer, Knutson jumped in.
“Yes,” he said.
If that’s the case, we’ll get to know McCollum a lot better in the next week or so. And it’s about time.
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