C.J. McCollum's basketball journey begins now


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.

Sixers-Thunder 10 observations: Joel Embiid electrifies in debut

Sixers-Thunder 10 observations: Joel Embiid electrifies in debut

Joel Embiid and Dario Saric playing in a regular-season game for the Sixers? Check.

Russell Westbrook being, well, Russell Westbrook? Check.

An overzealous fan giving Westbrook a crude salute and getting tossed from the arena? Yeah, check that one off too.

The Sixers' tight 103-97 loss to the Thunder in Wednesday night's season opener at the Wells Fargo Center had a little bit of everything (see Instant Replay).

Let's take a closer look at the action with 10 observations.

1. Embiid is already a rock star among Sixers fans thanks to his personality and social media antics, but if his game ever matches his fame, look out. When he caught the ball at the free throw line during the first quarter and did a mini "Dream Shake" to bury a jumper for his first NBA points and then followed it up on the other end with a massive swat of a Westbrook layup attempt, he gave the crowd an in impressive glimpse of his vast potential. He was even showered with “Trust the Process” chants when he stepped to the free throw line during the second half. Embiid finished the game with 20 points on 6 of 16 shooting and seven rebounds along with two blocks.

2. That's not to say the big fella was without his faults. After spending two years on the sidelines, Embiid was understandably amped up and tried to do too much at times on both offense (held the ball too much, four turnovers) and defense (over-helping on rotations, which left the paint open). Like anything involving Embiid, it's a process.

3. Note to fans: Westbrook is already a supremely focused and competitive player. He doesn't need any help to get going. However, one Sixers fan took it upon himself to rev up the Thunder's All-Star point guard with a special salute in the first quarter before being promptly ejected (see story). No wonder Westbrook scored 12 of his game-high 32 points in the first quarter and finished just one assist shy of a triple-double.

4. Saric didn’t have a great shooting night (2 of 12 from the field for five points), but he still looked relatively solid in the victory. The Croatian showcased the versatility that had the Sixers salivating over him for the past two years, including a number of pump/head fakes to get defenders off balance before he missed the ensuing shot. He was overmatched inside when OKC went to its super-sized lineup with mustache afficionados Steven Adams and Enes Kanter (combined 33 points and 17 rebounds) down low. But that’s more on Brett Brown leaving the rookie out to dry than Saric’s ability.

5. Speaking of Brown, I’m not sure if the Sixers will ever value possessions like they should under a head coach with his Spurs pedigree. However, just 14 for a squad that has finished 30th, 30th and 29th in that category during Brown's first three years at the helm is definitely a step in the right direction.

6. Surgery for a meniscus tear didn’t do anything to hamper Jahlil Okafor’s post moves. The second-year big man looked spry after playing in just one preseason game before the opener. His shot was a tad rusty (4 of 10), but Okafor managed eight points in 16 minutes.

7. I’ve been critical of the Sixers’ defense over the years mainly because … it was non-existent. That wasn’t the case Wednesday until the fourth quarter. They were outscored, 34-22, in the final period. For the most part, the Sixers closed out to shooters and rotated with purpose on the defensive end of the floor. They held the Thunder to 41.5 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from three-point range. Not bad when the “crown jewel” of the D in Embiid was limited to 22 minutes.

8. Jerryd Bayless might want to hurry back from that wrist injury. Sergio Rodriguez had the ball on a string all night long for the Sixers. The point guard had 12 points to go along with nine assists, zero turnovers and countless dribble moves that left Thunder defenders grasping at air. Not bad for a guy who hasn’t played an NBA game since 2010.

9. Sauce Castillo lives! OK, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but Nik Stauskas was excellent. He was decisive with his movements and got himself going by driving to the rim. The guard posted 13 points on 5 of 6 shooting off the bench. Perhaps coming into a season without the pressure of having to live up to being the No. 8 pick in the 2014 draft and playing with close friend T.J. McConnell are what the third-year player needed.

10. Wednesday’s game was a thriller down to the end, but you can’t help but feel that some of the extra juice that would have been in the building for No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons was missing. Instead of suiting up, Simmons held a press conference to discuss his health after foot surgery (see story).

Instant Replay: Joel Embiid shines in debut but Sixers edged by Thunder in opener

Instant Replay: Joel Embiid shines in debut but Sixers edged by Thunder in opener


The Sixers' first game of the 2016-17 regular season and the first of Joel Embiid’s career is in the books.

The Sixers lost, 103-97, to the Thunder in a closely-contested game that came down to the final minute. The two teams were separated by two points or less for nearly the final four minutes of the game. Ultimately, the Sixers fell scoreless in the last 50 seconds as the Thunder pulled away for the win.

The Sixers led by six, 87-81, with 5:30 left in regulation, but Oklahoma City closed the game on a 22-10 run.

Embiid exceeded his 20-minute restriction to clock 22:25. He scored a team-high 20 points (6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from three, 7 for 8 from the line) to go with seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls (see 10 observations).

Thunder All-Star guard Russell Westbrook recorded a double-double. He led all players with 32 points (11 for 21 from the floor, 1 for 2 from three, 9 for 11 from the line), 12 rebounds and nine assists. He scored nine points in the final 4:09 of the game to help Oklahoma City finish the Sixers.

Inside the box score
• Point guard Sergio Rodriguez posted 12 points, nine assists and zero turnovers in 31 minutes.

• Shooting guard Nik Stauskas scored 13 points in 22 minutes off the bench.

• Forward Dario Saric, also making his NBA debut, shot 2 for 12 from the field for five points in 27 minutes.

• The Sixers blocked 10 shots, led by Richaun Holmes' game-high three.

• The game featued 13 lead changes and seven ties. The Sixers' largest lead was 11 in the first quarter.

Sixers' regular-season firsts
The Sixers’ first basket/assist: Alley-oop dunk from Rodriguez to Gerald Henderson (you know, the play everyone — or no one — expected to see). 

Embiid’s first stat: A defensive rebound off a Westbrook missed jumper 19 seconds into the game.

Embiid’s first bucket: A 16-foot turnaround jumper with 8:17 remaining in the first.

Saric’s first field goal: With 8:51 to go in the first quarter, a 21-foot jumper off a pass from Rodriguez. 

Okafor’s first minutes: 7:47 left in the first quarter, subbing in for Embiid. Okafor scored eight points in 16 minutes.

Sixers’ first three: Henderson from Saric 1:14 into the first.

Injury update
Jerryd Bayless (left wrist soreness), Nerlens Noel (inflamed plica in left knee) and Ben Simmons (Jones fracture in right foot) did not play. Simmons spoke about his injury before the game (see story). Embiid was originally planned to be limited to 20 minutes, Okafor 12 to 14. 

Up next
The Sixers will host the Hawks on Saturday in an early afternoon game at 12:30 p.m.