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.

Joel Embiid 'shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry'

Joel Embiid 'shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry'

NEW ORLEANS -- Of all the players Joel Embiid could be compared to, a similarity between a 7-foot-2, 270-something-pound center and a 6-foot-3, 190-pound point guard wouldn’t seem like a match.

That’s exactly what Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry sees, however, when looking at Embiid and reigning MVP Steph Curry.

“He’s different than anybody that’s been in this league in a long, long time,” Gentry said Thursday before the Sixers win over the Pelicans. “He’s a tremendous talent, he really is. I’ve never seen a guy that size, and with that kind of strength, that’s got such a soft touch. He shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry. It’s so soft when it leaves his hand.”

Curry is shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from three. Embiid is 45.8 percent from the floor is 44.2 percent from long range.

Embiid flashed a big smile and paused to react when hearing of Gentry’s praise. He had been feeling hard on himself after going 0 for 5 beyond the arc against the Pelicans (see story).

“Steph is probably one of the best shooters in the league right now," Embiid said. "So that compliment means a lot."

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”