C.J. McCollum goes from Lehigh University's diamond in the rough to 2013 NBA lottery pick

CJ McCollum

Lehigh University's C.J. McCollum saw his draft stock skyrocket when the Mountain Hawks defeated Duke in the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball tournament.

(AP File Photo | CHUCK BURTON)

C.J. McCollum entered his junior year at GlenOak High School in Canton, Ohio, standing  5-foot-11.

Sure, the guard jetted up from his 5-2 stature as a freshman and his 5-7 height as a sophomore, but he knew this was the year.

If he wanted to fulfill his dream of playing Division I basketball and ultimately continue on to the NBA -- a dream he proclaimed to his mother, Kathy Andrews, at the age of 5 -- he had to get noticed.

McCollum wasted little time doing just that.

He scored a school-record 54 points in the season-opening 92-78 win over North (Akron) High School.

“I knew I needed to make a statement,” McCollum said during a media session on Wednesday afternoon at the Westin New York hotel in Times Square on the eve of the 2013 NBA Draft. “I jokingly told my dad (Errick McCollum Sr.) I would get 50. ... Everything was working. I kind of played loose and enjoyed the moment."

McCollum's statistics caught the attention of former Lehigh University associate head coach Matt Logie.

"I read about him in an article online, called the school and got his transcript," said Logie, now the head men's basketball coach at Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash. "I figured if he could score 54, I'd at least call and see what his transcript looked like."

His grades were acceptable for Lehigh, and thus began the courtship.

Shows ability to rise

McCollum, who also drew interest from schools including Akron, Bowling Green, Fairfield, Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan, vaulted to the top of Lehigh's priority list.

“It wasn’t as if nobody was recruiting him,” said Logie, who saw McCollum play live on some 15-plus occasions that year. “I think he was a prospect people were waiting to see more from and we had seen enough a little bit sooner than anyone else. I think a lot of people discount how strongly the academic reputation of Lehigh played into the whole process as well.”

After spending time around GlenOak watching McCollum play and talking to others about him, Logie returned and gave his scouting report to Mountain Hawks head coach Brett Reed.

“The things that stood out about him were the same things that stand out today: his feel for the game, his ability to work and he really wasn’t a guy who got turned off easily once he got going,” Logie said.

Reed and Logie discussed if waiting on McCollum while other schools doled out scholarships was worth it. According to Reed, Logie did his homework and discovered Errick McCollum, C.J.’s older brother, had a late growth spurt. Lehigh had its fingers crossed C.J. would follow suit.

Reed watched film on C.J. and was able to see him play live for the first time in the July between McCollum’s junior and senior seasons.

“Even if he didn’t grow like his brother (who now plays professionally in Greece), I wanted to move on him because I thought he was pretty good,” Reed said. “Ultimately, I walked away from that game saying that’s the guy we have to have. I made the understatement of my coaching career saying that guy could really help us.”

A first coming for Lehigh? It's a slam dunk

Two Patriot League Player of the Year awards, one league Rookie of the Year honor and a pair of trips to the NCAA Tournament later, McCollum, now 6-3 and 200 pounds, is on the verge of becoming the school’s first player to be selected in the NBA Draft.

McCollum will be the Patriot League's second NBA draftee; the other being Colgate center Adonal Foyle, who was drafted eighth overall by Golden State in 1997 and played 12 seasons in the NBA.

“I was in a position where they accepted me, brought me in and gave me a chance to come in and contribute right away,” McCollum said of his alma mater. “Lehigh was good to me. They took a chance on me. They didn’t have to give me a scholarship.

“I’m thankful I can be the first player drafted from Lehigh University.”

While Logie and Reed knew they would get an ideal playmaker to fit the Mountain Hawks’ system, they both admitted they didn’t realize McCollum’s full potential, at least not early on.

Then again, not many could have seen this coming.

“We didn’t really understand that he was on the verge of becoming an NBA prospect until midway through his freshman year,” Logie said. “By the time his freshman year was done and he was (Patriot League) Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year, we said, ‘OK, this guy is going to be on some radar screens.’

"We pretty much then knew he could develop into an NBA player and in each subsequent year, it became more obvious this guy was a diamond in the rough, a once-in-a-lifetime player for the program at Lehigh.”