Blazers see second-year guard as a creator as well as a sharpshooter

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - CJ McCollum is preparing for his second NBA season out of Lehigh looking to contribute more to the Trail Blazers than he did as an often-injured rookie.LAS VEGAS — The panoramic view of the valley from the 35th floor of the Four Seasons is striking. The plush luxury hotel isn't bad itself, with all the amenities a first-class traveler — such as an NBA player — could want.

CJ McCollum doesn't take such indulgences lightly.

"We get treated very well by putting us in top-notch hotels, both in summer league and throughout the season," the Trail Blazers' second-year guard says. "I'm thankful and grateful for everything that goes into the life of an NBA player."

It's what an NBA player is supposed to say. There's a sense of authenticity in McCollum, though, who seems far from the spoiled, entitled star athlete who too often finds his way onto a roster.

Perhaps there is humility born from a route to the NBA from the mid-major Patriot League, much the same path traveled as teammate Damian Lillard from the Big Sky's Weber State.

McCollum, who turns 23 in September, has one thing most of his peers don't have: a college degree. He graduated from Lehigh — a strong academic school of 4,900 located in Bethlehem, Pa. — in mass communications, with a minor in sociology.

The 6-3, 195-pound McCollum is a media dream, well-spoken and accommodating. But it goes beyond that. He's a journalist himself, for two years sports editor of the "Brown and White," the campus newspaper at LeHigh, while also spending some time working with the student television station.

McCollum wrote an article in The Sporting News, explaining why he opted to return to Lehigh for his senior year. He penned a "Point After" piece on his pre-draft experience for Sports Illustrated and authored a few blog submissions for during his rookie season.

The electronic media may be where the future is, however, for McCollum, who was miked by NBA.TV during the Trail Blazers' Las Vegas Summer League-opening loss to New York Saturday at Cox Pavilion.

"I did it last year, too," McCollum says. "It's a little awkward having (the microphone) around your waist, but you kind of forget about it at times. Throughout a game, emotions run high and you never know what will come out of your mouth. But they filter out things pretty well."

Since mid-last season, McCollum has hosted a weekly one-hour talk show on Sirius XM radio, with guests such as Damian Lillard, Rick Fox, Peyton Siva and Archie Goodwin.

"Just trying to keep my resume alive in something I enjoy doing," McCollum says. "You always have to be thinking post-career and put yourself in a position of having a successful backdrop once you do retire. Even if you retire (from the NBA) in your mid- to late-30s, you still have a lot of living to do. It's something I'm always cognizant of.

"Writing comes easy, and it's nice to put a piece together and think about bullet points and see how the story comes out. But I always say I want to do TV some day, because I have a face for TV."

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: MIKALAN MOISO - Back-up point guard CJ McCollum plans to use his time at this years NBA Summer League in Las Vegas to improve his game. McCollums focus also is on writing and TV, where he hopes to someday work as a journalist.

'I'll be there someday'

McCollum laughs. Then he talks about his parents, Errick McCollum Sr. and Kathy Andrews, divorced when he was three but united in providing guidance for CJ and older brother Errick II.

The McCollum crew is close-knit. Errick Sr., recently retired after 36 years as a steel worker in Canton, Ohio, is in Las Vegas to watch his son play this week. Make that sons — Errick II, a 6-2 guard who has spent the past five years playing pro ball abroad, is a member of Denver's summer-league squad.

"I give my parents all the credit," CJ says. "They did a terrific job raising us. My dad was always there for me. He's always made sure I'm working hard and doing the right stuff."

CJ and his mother are so close, she has lived with him since he moved to Portland last summer. They recently rented a house in Lake Oswego.

Errick II "is my best friend," CJ says, "and a big reason why I'm where I'm at today."

Then there is CJ's long-time girlfriend, Elise Esposito, also armed with a Lehigh degree, hers in behavioral science/pre-med.

"When she has time, she's out (to Portland) visiting, too," he says.

McCollum says he won't partake much in the night life during the Blazers' run in Vegas. That's not his style.

"I'm a laid-back guy," he says. "I just like to relax."

McCollum enjoy shopping, watching movies (I'm going to see "The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes") and shows on Netflix (" 'Game of Thrones,' 'Scandal,' 'Breaking Bad,' 'Dexter' a little bit").

For all of his self-assurance off the court, McCollum hasn't yet made the mark on the court he had hoped after being chosen by the Blazers with the 10th pick in the 2013 draft.

Much of that is due to injury. McCollum fractured his left foot in January 2013 during his senior season at Lehigh, then re-broke it last October during training camp. After a three-month rehab, McCollum made his debut with the Blazers on Jan. 8 and stayed on the fringe of coach Terry Stotts' regular rotation for two months. McCollum played sparingly after that, though, and saw only 25 minutes of action in Portland's 11 playoff games. Through his 38 games of the regular season, McCollum averaged 5.3 points in only 12.5 minutes, shooting .416 from the field, .375 from 3-point range and .676 from the free-throw line.

"There were a lot of ups and downs," he says. "I need to be more consistent. That will come with more experience, more reps and more time getting acclimated."

The 6-3 McCollum is now a sinewy 195 pounds, with only 5.5-percent body fat.

"I'm in pretty good shape," he says. "I have to credit our training staff, Todd Forcier and Ben Kenyon, along with Chris Stackpole for making sure I'm aware of what I'm putting into my body. It will pay off next season. I'm sacrificing now for long-term gain."

McCollum is a natural shooting guard whom the Blazers would love to be able to use at times behind Lillard at the point.

"The big thing is him feeling confident in everything he does," says assistant coach Nate Tibbetts, who ran the Blazers in their summer league opener. "He has not played a ton of basketball over the last two years. Getting in the repetitions, getting up and down, as much as possible will be good for him.

"CJ is going to be a ballhander, a creator for us. He can put himself in position to score. The thing he is focused on this summer is creating for others. He is very good at seeing the floor, and we need that from him here."

McCollum isn't regarding summer league as a tryout session for himself.

"The coaches know what we're good at, what we need to improve on," McCollum says. "They know I'm a guy who can knock down 3's. The most important thing is to show improvement in your deficiencies. I've been working a lot on defense. Every rookie struggles with it, especially when you play guard.

"I need to continue to round out my entire game. I'm not a finished product. I want to continue to improve and put myself into position to contribute to this team in any way possible. I'm one of the younger guys on the team. All of us have a lot of room to grow. I want to try to get ahead of the curve."

McCollum's short-term goal would be to prove to Stotts he is worthy of being a consistent member of Portland's regular rotation next season.

"I can be a real good NBA player," McCollum says. "I'll continue to show that in practice. The more consistent I am with work ethic and doing the little things, I'll be there some day."

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Twitter: @kerryeggers

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