TUALATIN, Ore. — Before the NBA Draft, C.J. McCollum will hear — and even promote — the comparisons to Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard.
Both starred at mid-major colleges. Both eschewed early entries to the NBA and stayed in school for four years. They both experienced eerily similar injuries that sidelined them during pivotal college seasons.
However, by McCollum’s own admission, he could not equate to the reigning Rookie of the Year in one category: Lillard won the unofficial matchup during their respective pre-draft workouts with the Blazers.
“I heard Dame missed two shots,” McCollum said Monday morning, recalling the legendary story about Lillard’s tryout with the Blazers last summer. “So I tried to go for three. I came up a little short.”
However, much like Lillard, McCollum visited the Blazers for a solo session as a potential lottery pick in the upcoming draft.
McCollum, a 6-foot-4 guard from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, showcased his skill set in front of the usual front-office faces — namely, owner Paul Allen, general manager Neil Olshey as well as head coach Terry Stotts.
“I made more shots and I missed more shots,” McCollum said, contrasting this Blazers’ session with his four previous workouts with NBA teams. “One-on-none is pretty tough to kind of display what you can do. So you just kind of play hard, show that you’re in good shape — and that’s all you can really do.”
After the workout, a beaming Olshey met with McCollum and on three separate occasions offered a warm handshake. If the Blazers fall in love with another star from basketball Siberia — as the franchise found in Lillard — then McCollum would be their new object of affection.
At Lehigh, McCollum’s scoring numbers climbed every year and he finished with a career average of 21.3 points a game on 43.9 percent field-goal shooting.
Even so, excelling as the Patriot League Player of the Year did not help McCollum’s national profile as much as his 30-point performance during Lehigh’s historic upset over the No. 2-seeded Duke in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
Greater expectations then followed into his senior season and McCollum was on track to matching the hype as he led the nation in scoring. However, in January, McCollum suffered a broken bone in the fifth metatarsal of his left foot and missed the remainder of the season.
Lillard suffered that exact injury that caused him to miss the majority of his third season at Weber State.
McCollum, who has been projected as high as the No. 8 selection by DraftExpress.com, said he has fully healed from the damage but teams still want to test the reliability of his foot during workouts.
“Everybody wants to see you shoot. They want to see me jump because I’m coming off a broken foot,” McCollum said. “I think I’ve already proven that (I’m healthy) throughout the combine. The medical testing we have is very extensive. I was in the hospital for over 10 hours over the span of two days, so if you look at the X-ray, it looks nice and then you see me cutting, running, jumping and shooting off the dribble. So, I put that to rest now.”
Their comparable backgrounds have brought McCollum and Lillard together. The two have communicated over the last year and a half and McCollum even expected Lillard would show up at the practice facility for his workout with the Blazers. However, it seems Lillard was tied up while spending time in Los Angeles.
So, the McCollum-Lillard reunion must wait.
The McCollum-Lillard backcourt, however, carries weight.
“I think that would be a very dynamic group,” McCollum said of the potential pairing. “We’re both four-year guys and at the same time, we both can create for each other and create for ourselves. He’s already established here. This is his team. I’m just coming in, trying to fulfill a role or a need on this roster.”