C.J. McCollum's basketball journey begins now

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C.J. McCollum's basketball journey begins now

NEW YORK -- For C.J. McCollum, step one is complete.

On Thursday night, he walked across the stage at the Barclays Center, was handed a hat with the Portland Trail Blazers' logo and completed his dream of being drafted in the NBA.

His pick: First round, 10th overall.

“It’s only step one,” his father Errick McCollum Sr. told CSNPhilly.com.

Yes, only step one.

The next step is to pick up where he left off at Lehigh University.

McCollum is known for his perimeter skills -- he shot 49.5 percent last season and 51.6 percent from three. He led the Mountain Hawks in scoring last year, averaging 23.9 points in his senior season before fracturing his left foot in January. He holds the Patriot League record for most points scored with 2,361.

But for all the positive stats and reviews coming into the draft, there were scouts who still weren’t impressed. They felt McCollum, though a talented scorer, would be average when his skills were matched up against the NBA's best and not foes in the NCAA's Patriot League. Nothing spectacular. No superstar potential.

Told this before he walked across the stage to shake David Stern’s hand, McCollum told CSNPhilly.com: “I play for myself and my family. It’s not about proving people wrong anymore. I’m going to be in the NBA. It’s about being successful and outlasting. You got to beat the average. You got to beat that 4.7 years (average span of a player’s career), you got to outlast that and try to get that second and third contract.

“I’m going to do whatever is possible to be that guy that comes out of this draft class. There’s always busts. There’s always guys that sneak up on you. Hopefully, I’m one of the guys that sneaks up on you.”

McCollum (6-3/200) will join a team with reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, and for the moment, all-star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who has been rumored to be on the trading block.

McCollum already has visions of Portland’s backcourt being dynamic. The Lehigh product mixed with Lillard -- he smiled when talking about it.

“It’s a blessing to be able to play in the NBA,” he said. “It’s even more of a blessing to be able to play with the Rookie of the Year. A guy that you can kind of learn from. A guy who has been in simular situations as you. .... He’s where I am trying to get. ... He’s had a huge impact in his rookie year; one of two rookies to play all 82 games. ... I have a lot to learn and I am looking forward to it.”

But there is a confidence in the 22-year-old from Canton, Ohio. A confidence that he’ll produce better than expected. A confidence that Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts may see when McCollum arrives in Portland. His dad already sees it.

“He’ll be the best,” McCollum Sr. said. “And I’m not just saying that cause I am his father. He’ll be the best. Keep track of him. You’ll see.”

Told of his father’s comments, McCollum responded. “He's supposed to say that. He’s my dad. But at the same time, he knows how hard I work.”

Those who watched McCollum at Lehigh know how hard he’s worked, too. When Stern called his name, there was a loud roar, as fans cheered McCollum, who became the first Lehigh product to be drafted and the second player in the history of the Patriot League. Adonal Foyle (Colgate) was the first player to be drafted from the league in 1991.

“I’m just thankful to be in the position where I can represent my home state, my home city, Lehigh and my family,” McCollum said.

He reflected for a moment when a reporter asked about revisiting those times when making it to the NBA seemed so far away, like a goal that would never be reached.

“It seemed really far away when I was 5-foot-2 in my senior year in high school,” McCollum said. “It seemed a little bit closer as I got to college. When I broke my foot, it seemed a little bit further away in my senior year [at Lehigh], but then I realized I had a really good chance to make it to the NBA.”

Asked beforehand if he was nervous, McCollum said no. “Anxious,” he responded.

Anxious to start his NBA story. Anxious to be prove his dad correct.

For C.J. McCollum, it starts now. Right now.

Bennett joins GrandMama
When the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Anthony Bennett with the first overall pick, the 6-foot-8 forward became the second player in UNLV history to be drafted No. 1, joining Larry Johnson.

Bennett averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds in his only season with the Runnin' Rebels.

Bennett said he was told of the resemblance to Johnson’s game, so he took some time to dig up old film. It was the 1990 NCAA championship game when Johnson’s squad knocked off Duke, 103-73. Johnson finished that game with 22 points and 11 rebounds.
 
“I kind of see where the comparisons are coming from,” Bennett said.

Unlike 2 years ago, Dario Saric feels ready for the NBA

Unlike 2 years ago, Dario Saric feels ready for the NBA

Dario Saric wanted to come to the NBA. He just didn’t feel ready when he was drafted in 2014.

Saric spent the past two years furthering his basketball career in Europe after being selected 12th by the Magic and traded to the Sixers. Now 22, he is confident in his decision to start his NBA career in Philadelphia. 

“I grew up like a person first. After that, I grew up like a player to play against the best players in the world,” Saric said Monday at Sixers media day. “I think now I feel I’m ready. I feel I can give something to this team.”

Basketball itself wasn’t the issue — Saric has been playing professionally since the age of 15. He has competed against top European competition, won numerous accolades, and was a member of the Croatian Olympic team this summer. 

Saric knew he could play in the NBA, but there is so much more involved in it for him. Joining the Sixers meant leaving Europe, moving to a new place to play in a new league, all at the young age of 20. 

“After NBA draft, I wasn’t ready to come here,” the forward said. “Not like a basketball player, like a man. I wasn’t ready because to take a big step, to go out of the family, to go to another country. For me it was so hard. ... I decide[d] during last season I would come here, I would try to play with the best players in the world.”

From season to season, the anticipation of Saric’s arrival grew. The Sixers' front office and staff kept in frequent contact. Saric often was in communication with head coach Brett Brown, former general manager Sam Hinkie and current president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo. Assistant director of player development Chris Babcock also made trips to Istanbul to spend time with Saric.

All the while, Sixers fans eagerly awaited his decision. When he agreed to sign in July, he was taken aback by the reception. 

“I was surprised, I didn’t expect it to be something like that,” Saric said. “I know people waited for me like two years to come here. I know there’s, I can say, some kind of pressure on me.” 

With that pressure, Saric hopes to bring a winning mentality from his successes overseas. Colangelo has been impressed by the sampling he has observed of Saric during informal preseason team scrimmages. He grouped Saric with 6-foot-10 rookie Ben Simmons when discussing the Sixers’ bigs with diverse skillsets.

“What I see is a versatile player, a skilled big man that can do a number of things,” Colangelo said. “When you’re talking about 6-9, 6-10 and 6-11 players that are skilled and adept at ball handling, passing, driving, kicking out, thinking team-first — it seems both players — I think that’s a tremendous asset to have.” 

Saric understands, though, there will be a transition period as he adapts to the NBA. In the short time he has been around the Sixers, he has already noticed differences in the style of play. 

“What I can see is faster,” he said. “Everybody said the first couple of months will be like that. After that you will catch that rhythm, or that speed for your eyes and you will be faster. That’s the first thing I recognized, that I saw.”

Saric also noted the difference in format of the seasons, pointing out the tightly-packed 82-game NBA schedule. With so many adjustments, he plans to lean on his network of European players in the league, past and present. This summer, he received advice from former Sixer Toni Kukoc when he worked on the Croation National Team coaching staff. Even the smallest suggestion like stretching after practice is resonating with Saric.

“Toni, he told me for sure it will be hard for you when you come, but you must try to keep work[ing] day-by-day,” Saric said. 

For the player who once didn't feel ready for the NBA, Saric quickly has been pleased with his decision to play for the Sixers this season. 

“Everything is better than what I expect,” he said. 

Best quotes from Sixers 2016 media day

Best quotes from Sixers 2016 media day

CAMDEN, N.J. — Sixers president Bryan Colangelo and all 20 players on the team's training camp roster spoke at the organization's new state-of-the-art training complex during media day.

Here are some of the best quotes from Monday's session:

Colangelo on rebuilding process being like building new training complex
"This is the start of a new season, a new moment for the franchise. We've talked a lot about the growth and building process. We're looking forward, not back. A lot of this reminds me of, it's not dissimilar to a construction site on a skyscraper or a real estate project. There's been a lot of work being done to the infrastructure here for several months and in this case several years. We're on the verge of establishing things above grade, things that hopefully move this organization forward. We're looking ahead with a lot of excitement and a lot of anticipation on where it might go."

Elton Brand on competition among the big men
"I expect a bloodbath. I expect a battle. These guys are big, they're talented and they all have different skill sets. They are good. They can really play. Joel [Embiid] being healthy,[Jahlil Okafor], of course Nerlens [Noel] and Dario [Saric]. That's the fives. Then the fours, the number one pick, he's going to play. Jerami Grant took a leap. It's a lot of talent, so it's going to be fun to watch and be a part of."

Embiid on watching so much live and taped basketball while injured
"I've learned a lot. I'm really someone who loves watching basketball, who loves learning. To this day I still watch my college stuff because I love watching myself. I'll watch myself probably every day. Then I watch some of the other guys. I watch everybody's game. I just love being around basketball and watching games. NBA games or college games. Obviously NBA games are different than college. I can't really watch college basketball anymore because it just drives me crazy."

Okafor on whether his eyes light up when a guard switches onto him
"My eyes always light up no matter who's guarding me. I feel like I can do whatever I want. No matter if the person is smaller or bigger, it doesn't matter to me."

Ben Simmons on being considered a leader even though he's a rookie
"Definitely. I believe I'm a leader no matter what it is. Whether I'm playing Scrabble, Monopoly, Pictionary, whatever the game is. I try to lead whenever the occasion arises."

Brand on being in shape to play
"The offseason, I don't go on the basketball court as much as I did when I knew I'd be on a roster or trying to be on a roster. I just try to stay in cool dad shape. Riding my bike. I want my clothes to fit. I don't want to be like some NBA players that retire and play a long time and don't look as good. I was just working on riding my bike, jogging, swimming and then I'll hit the court."

Sergio Rodriguez on coming back to the NBA after a six-year absence
"It's been 10 years [since my NBA debut]. I've changed many things in my basketball skills. Also personal, the way that I act now, the way that I treat my body now. The way that I think is way different than it was when I first came into the league. For me it's a big challenge to come here at 30 years old and try to get an opportunity with the Sixers."

T.J. McConnell on letting Gerald Henderson have his No. 12 jersey
"I got a text from Scott Rego our equipment guy saying that Gerald's dad wore 12 when he played here and he would like to do the same and would I be willing to give up the number. So I just gave it up and I think one was the only other point-guard-looking number so I just took it. Nothing was added to the McConnell fund. All I got was a firm handshake, that's about it."