Blazers take Lehigh’s McCollum in NBA Draft




Christian James McCollum did not notice the ESPN cameras trained on his every move. So, on Thursday night, McCollum grooved without a care and shimmied his shoulders inside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

CJ McCollum broke out his chair dance routine after Minnesota selected its player, because he was moments away from becoming the newest Portland Trail Blazer.

“I kinda knew that I was about to get picked,” McCollum said. “I just wanted to dance and show my excitement.”

The Blazers selected McCollum, the 6-foot-3 guard from Lehigh, with the 10th pick of the NBA Draft.

McCollum ended his four-year college career as the all-time leading scorer in Patriot League history (2,361 points) and during an abbreviated senior season, McCollum recorded 23.9 points a game on 49.5 percent shooting, while averaging 5.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists.

Portland also acquired California’s 6-7 shooting guard Allen Crabbe via a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Blazers received Cleveland’s No. 31 selection for two future second-round picks. Also, Portland drafted Kansas’ 7-foot center Jeff Withey (39th pick), 6-10 Arizona’s 6-10 forward Grant Jerrett (40th) and 6-10 forward Marko Todorovic from F.C. Barcelona.

Last June, after nabbing first-round picks Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard, Blazers general manager Neil Olshey declared the draft as a “really good night.” On Thursday, Olshey appeared muted — too many sleepless nights this month — but expressed contentment with how Portland made out in the draft.

“We got the guys we wanted and we got the guys we didn’t think we’d have the opportunity to get,” Olshey said.

Although the Blazers landed four second-round players, the team traded Jerrett before the end of the night, sending the underclassman forward to Oklahoma City for cash considerations.

While Jerrett was on the move, the red carpet awaits McCollum in Portland.

“He’s the whole package. It’s very similar to Dame. The way he carries himself, he’s got command presence on the floor,” Olshey said. “He’s another guy who really wanted to be here.”

The night began with a surprise at the top. The Cavaliers chose UNLV’s Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 pick, instead of the presumptive top choice, center Nerlens Noel from Kentucky. As the board filled out — which included a pair of Indiana players within the top four (Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller) and a 7-footer who did not participate in a single workout this spring (Maryland’s Alex Len) — the chaos continued.

David Stern, overseeing his final draft as the NBA Commissioner, was its ringleader, relishing the boos that rained down from the rafters. Milking every moment before announcing the Blazers’ selection, Stern taunted his haters by raising his hand in a motion as if to encourage more razzing. Finally, Stern smirked, and got on with it.

“With the 10th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft,” Stern intoned, “the Portland Trail Blazers select CJ McCollum.”

On this unpredictable night, McCollum falling to Portland’s lap was not a given. Neither was McCollum being so highly regarded in the first place.

“People say I’m not supposed to be here,” said McCollum, a native of Canton, Ohio. “But I’m ready. I’m ready to help out, I’m ready to do whatever’s necessary.”

McCollum can thank his newest teammate for making the road to the NBA a little easier.

Before Lillard set the league ablaze with his breakout Rookie of the Year season, a collegian from a small school in Pennsylvania reached out to him through Twitter. In Lillard, McCollum had found his professional role model.

Both players thrived at small-conference schools. Lillard ruled the Big Sky Conference, while McCollum reigned over the Patriot League.

They even experienced similar season-ending injuries with fractures of the fifth metatarsal bone. Lillard broke his right foot. McCollum cracked his left.

Eventually, @CJMcCollum and @Dame_Lillard moved their friendship off the social network and exchanged cell phone numbers. Lillard shared his previous rehabilitation routine for his foot and rookie year wisdom in how to exploit spacing in the pros. McCollum eagerly soaked in the knowledge.

“Be yourself,” McCollum said, recalling the advice Lillard offered. “This league will eat you up. It’s a man’s league. Also, don’t be content with just being drafted, and I’m not, and don’t be content in just getting money.”

Alas, on Thursday night, McCollum joined the Association, following the same steps that Lillard paved a year ago. The Rookie of the Year co-signed the selection.

“Love it,” Lillard sent through a text message to The Columbian.

McCollum will give the Blazers an extra ball handler, and allow Lillard to play off the ball — similar to the role Eric Maynor filled as a mid-season addition. Olshey said the team will not extend a qualifying offer to Maynor, a restricted free agent. The pass on Maynor opens up a role for McCollum.

“Being able to play with Damian, being able to play with Wes (Matthews),” coach Terry Stotts said. “I think offensively he’ll be able to compliment our roster with his versatility.”