CJ McCollum, ‘13, shooting guard for the New Orleans Pelicans and Lehigh basketball alumni, returned to Lehigh for his induction into the Roger S. Penske Lehigh Athletics Hall of Fame on Sept. 1. Other former athletes and coaches inducted include former baseball pitchers Lee Butz, ‘55, and Mitch Smith, ‘79, former football coaches Andy Coen and Kevin Higgins, and former women’s lacrosse standout Lauren Dykstra, ‘11.
In his freshman season, the Canton, Ohio, native averaged 19.1 points per game along with 5.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists. This earned him both Patriot League Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year honors, becoming the first player to win both awards in a season.
He also led the team to the 2010 Patriot League title in his freshman season, leading the Mountain Hawks to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2004.
Joe Sterrett, Lehigh Dean of Athletics, said he did not expect McCollum to achieve this level of success during his time as a Mountain Hawk when he first met him.
“I wondered after I had met with [McCollum] in my office as a prospect why we were committing a scholarship — worth probably a couple hundred thousand dollars — to a 6 ‘1, 150-pound kid who looked like he just got off the junior high bus,” Sterrett said.
Sterrett was eventually convinced that McCollum was worth the scholarship, and the rest was history.
Even as an established star in the NBA who averaged 20 points per game in his last nine seasons, he still carries a chip on his shoulder from when he was an undersized guard coming out of high school.
“I think you start off with the chip,” McCollum said. “You have these goals, you have these dreams, you have these aspirations as to what you want to accomplish, and usually people are doubting you along the way. Once I’ve accomplished them, I’ve just chased the work and allowed that to determine my success on and off the court.”
McCollum wasn’t satisfied with just Patriot League Player of the Year. His ultimate goal was to play in the NBA, and to do this, he had to keep improving, which he went to great lengths to accomplish.
“Being the guy that I am, I would go out first,” McCollum said. “And then I would go work out at like 1 a.m.”
Gabe Knutson, ‘13, who played alongside McCollum for all four years of his Lehigh career, said McCollum was the hardest worker on his team.
Late-night shooting sessions, which McCollum said are still a personal habit going into his 11th NBA season, improved his numbers across the board. They led to a total of three All-Patriot League Team appearances, two Patriot League Players of the Year awards and a Patriot League tournament MVP from his freshman to junior year.
McCollum’s senior year was cut short by injury, but at the end of this year, he was still able to accomplish his lifelong dream: making it to the NBA.
McCollum was selected 10th overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2010 NBA Draft, making him the first Lehigh player ever to be drafted and the first Patriot League player ever to be drafted in the first round.
McCollum is still thriving in the NBA today, averaging 20.9 points per game last season after a nine-year stint with the Blazers.
McCollum has also explored other interests outside of basketball throughout his career.
He currently serves as the president of the NBA Players Association and is the founder of his own wine brand: McCollum Heritage 91, which is now sold nationwide. McCollum has also written multiple articles for the NBA Players Tribune and has even appeared as an analyst on ESPN, drawing from his journalistic experience with The Brown & White.
“His basketball has been successful, but so has his journalism career — having a podcast and being on ESPN,” Knutson said. “He’s really done a lot of positive things.”
McCollum is also a husband and father, in addition to a strong community member in multiple places: his hometown of Canton, the Lehigh Valley, and the cities of Portland and New Orleans.
He was inducted into the Lehigh Athletic Hall of Fame not only for his on-court talent, but also for his community involvement.
“It’s so much more than just my performance on the court,” McCollum said. “It’s the things that we (the inductees) are doing off the court: the impact in the community, the character, the leadership, the values, the ethics. It just shows the well-roundedness that we have as Lehigh alums.”