Through 12 games in the 2012-13 season, Lehigh senior guard C.J. McCollum had done nothing to dispel the notion that he was one of the nation’s best players. With averages of 23.9 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game to that point in the season, McCollum was leading the country in scoring and well on his way to earning All-America honors for the second consecutive season (AP Honorable Mention as a junior).
That all came to a halt in a January 5 game at VCU, with McCollum suffering a broken bone in his left foot. While there was some hope that the Canton, Ohio native could possibly return to the floor in March, as Patriot League play progressed it became apparent that McCollum would not be ready to rejoin his teammates on the floor.
“Once we started getting towards the end of the regular season when we were losing time of competitive basketball our focus shifted,” Lehigh head coach Dr. Brett Reed said in a phone interview with NBC Sports.
“When it became apparent that it would not be in his best interest to come back for the Patriot League tournament, then immediately we transitioned to the idea of ‘let’s utilize the additional time and allow him to be healthy for the wonderful things he has in store career-wise beyond Lehigh basketball.'”
The recovery process isn’t solely about a player getting his body back to full strength. It’s also about taking full advantage of the newly-found time to evaluate his game from a different perspective. McCollum did this through the use of both “mental reps” and spending even more time evaluating himself on tape, and he learned some valuable lessons.
“I broke down a lot of film while I was injured. I always broke down a lot of film when I was playing, but now I had more free time to analyze things with my coaching staff and become a player-coach,” McCollum said in a phone interview with NBC Sports.
In addition to being able to break down defensive schemes and also work to perfect his shooting form, McCollum also made strides to be an even better leader than he was before the injury. McCollum credited Dr. Reed for his continued progression as a leader both on and off the court.
“Coach Reed’s so mature beyond his years in terms of knowing the game and really breaking down the important parts of not only being a successful basketball player, but being a good person off the court as well,” said McCollum. “That’s what he’s really done with me, just making sure I’m doing the right things off the court and continuing to develop my leadership skills.”
The idea of McCollum playing the point may be something that concerns those unfamiliar with his game and what he was asked to do at Lehigh. But to attempt to place McCollum into a particular “box” would be a mistake, as he certainly needed to be a playmaker for the Mountain Hawks.
“He’s been very involved with our program as a creator, both for his own scoring opportunities and for others with the way we would utilize him in ‘pick and roll’ basketball,” noted Dr. Reed. “Often he was our leading rebounder, which allowed him to start our fast break as well. So he was in a number of those positions [which allowed him] to utilize those skill sets.”
How did McCollum reach the point of being able to take on such responsibilities from a skill standpoint?
Hard work first and foremost, and some credit should also be given to a coaching staff that has experienced professional basketball in both the NBA and overseas.
“That was huge,” said McCollum when asked how this impacted his development. “Coach [Ryan] Krueger is one of the guys who came from the NBA (former video coordinator for the Nets), and he’s able to break down film on another level; he’s kind of perfected it and just knows the ins and outs of ‘pick and roll’ basketball.
“And coach [Antoni] Wyche, he actually played overseas and was a four-year starter at Notre Dame. He’s gone through it, so I can touch base with him and pick his brain about what it’s like to become a professional and what it takes to get there.”
For some players, suffering an injury that ended their collegiate career would be enough to send their draft stock in the wrong direction. That hasn’t been the case for McCollum, and while some may point towards his showings in pre-draft workouts the fact of the matter is that this process has been ongoing for quite some time.
And when his name is called on June 27, the moment will be one that’s been four years in the making for both McCollum and Lehigh.
Raphielle can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.