Late last week, Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum returned to his alma mater, Lehigh University, to inspire teens taking part in the LEAD (Leadership, Education and Development) Program, hosted by the college of business and economics. He spoke to students about what it was like for him growing up and being told that his goals were unrealistic, and the support he had from family members. Lauryn Ragone of The Brown and White has the full story, here, on the Lehigh website:
“I’ll never forget [my middle school teacher] telling me the chances of making it as a professional athlete were very slim. She gave me the percentages. She gave me the breakdown,” said McCollum, now a Portland Trail Blazers standout. “And I used to say to her…one day you’re going to be begging me to come back and speak to the kids. Now we fast forward, and I talk to [the kids].”
Just 4-foot-8 in eighth grade, McCollum said he still dreamed of making it to the NBA, even though he was physically too short to achieve his goal. By the start of high school, McCollum had grown to 5-foot-2 and weighed 107 pounds. Scrawny and short, McCollum said he focused on his athletic performance, but was often only scoring 6 points per game.
His older brother, Errick, was a starting point guard on the school’s basketball team.
“I was Errick’s little brother, no one really knew my name…As I got older I used to tell him, you’re going to be C.J.’s older brother, and he used to laugh and say, ‘if I’m C.J.’s brother then I did my job.’ That’s the kind of brother he was,” McCollum said. “He did his job to help raise me to put me in a position to be successful.”
McCollum, now 6’4” and 190 lbs, has found success in the NBA as part of one of the most dynamic backcourts in the league. His tremendous work ethic and on-court accomplishments earned him the NBA Most Improved Player Award in 2016, and his continued high level of play placed him among the league’s top-20 scorers in 2017. His childhood goal accomplished, he turns his struggles and resulting prosperity into a tool to motivate others.
To learn more about the LEAD program that made this event possible, check out their website.