CJ McCollum, men’s basketball alumnus and NBA guard, returned to Stabler Arena on Sunday to have his jersey retired. The ceremony, which occurred at halftime, was a part of Legend’s Weekend honoring McCollum and women’s basketball standout Erica Prosser.
Addressing the crowd with tear-filled eyes, McCollum noted that he promised himself he wouldn’t cry, but was overcome with emotions in the moment.
“It is crazy, you always picture getting your jersey retired and being in this position,” McCollum said. “And then it happens, and it feels really weird.”
But his career at Lehigh went beyond just baskets. McCollum, a journalism major and Brown and White alumnus, said those experiences have helped shaped who he is today.
He said that initially reasoning with coach Brett Reed and his mom about the switch from business to journalism was tough, but they eventually accepted his decision.
McCollum, who was aspiring to be a professional athlete during his college career, knew he had to be able to articulate words well in interviews.
But his passion then developed into something else.
“There was a lot that I learned,” McCollum said. “Being able to cover games, conduct interviews after games, I got a better understanding and appreciation for what it takes to be a journalist.”
McCollum wanted to figure out how he could assert himself as an individual outside of basketball. He wanted to impact communities with the stories he wrote and told.
McCollum said he enjoyed his college experience at Lehigh. His fiancee Elise Esposito, ’13, ’15G, agreed. A Bethlehem native, Esposito said that it was amazing to be back at Lehigh and celebrate McCollum’s career.
“All of the love he received, it was really cool,” Esposito said. “It’s crazy, I think we always knew he was going to accomplish a lot. It is just amazing to see how much he has accomplished. I am very proud of him.”
McCollum said although he achieved most of his goals during his time at Lehigh, he wishes he won the Patriot League Tournament all four years.
However, he accomplished his goal of leaving a lasting legacy at Lehigh.
“I think just the combination of late nights in the gym, late nights in the library, finding that balance, late nights on East Fifth Street, the combination of everything,” McCollum said. “I really enjoyed my college experience, and I don’t think I left much on the table.”
He said the advice that he gave to the current Lehigh team was to enjoy the years they have with their teammates and friends and to have some fun, too.
“The moral of the story is just enjoy it,” McCollum said. “I took advantage of each day, and it paid off.”
This message resonated with Lehigh senior guards Lance Tejada and Kyle Leufroy.
The Mountain Hawks fell short to Holy Cross 73-71, a tough loss as the regular season winds down to its last few games.
However, on their senior day, the two teammates said they learned a very important lesson.
“It is an honor that he came back to show love, a little bit of wisdom and show support,” Tejada said. “As a program, we preach family here and that was a big thing for us.”
McCollum, who has been waiting for this day his whole life, said this is exactly how he pictured everything to turn out.
“It’s crazy, so many memories and experiences you can cultivate in four of your years and be able to bring it together six, seven years later…I am extremely thankful to be in this position,” McCollum said.
Everyone who knows McCollum knew he was going to do great things. They just didn’t know how big.
And neither did he.