While the 2019 NBA playoffs race intensifies by the day, fans won’t have to wait until April to experience postseason basketball. The NCAA Tournament is right around the corner, and with it comes one of the most iconic phrases in sports—March Madness. One of the more exciting moments in the history of the tournament, which began in 1939, featured current Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum, as he guided the 15th seed Lehigh Mountain Hawks to a shocking upset over the second-seeded Duke Blue Devils in 2012.
McCollum, a junior that season, had already realized a stellar career heading into the tourney. In fact, it wasn’t even his first trip to the Big Dance. As a freshman in 2010, he was named the Patriot League’s Player of the Year, and led the Hawks to their first tournament since 2004. Unfortunately, they drew a #16 seed, and were matched-up against the number one overall seed, Kansas. Though the Jayhawks easily dispatched McCollum’s squad, they ended up losing their next game to ninth-seeded Northern Iowa, in another historic upset. Ironically, Duke won it all that year.
2012 was different story. McCollum once again took home conference POY honors, and Lehigh entered the tournament with experience. Duke boasted future NBA talent like Austin Rivers, Miles and Mason Plumlee and McCollum’s now teammate Seth Curry, but the Hawks featured the best player on the court that night in Greensboro, NC. In what would essentially serve as his NBA audition tape, CJ marveled the crowd and shocked the nation, showcasing his incredible ability to score and unshakable confidence. He went for 30 points, six rebounds and six assists in the contest, and iced the game at the foul line as the Hawks hung on for the 75-70 triumph.
Though Lehigh lost to Xavier 70-59 two nights later, it didn’t matter much to the Mountain Hawk faithful. The team had done the unthinkable, and put the school in Bethlehem, PA on the map. McCollum cemented his legacy as the one of the greatest players in school history, and the first to be drafted, despite an injury-plagued senior season. His 2,361 career points rank second in the university’s record book, behind only the great Daren Queenan, who ranks 24th in NCAA history for points scored at 2,703. CJ is also the Patriot League’s all-time leading scorer.
Last month he became just the third player in the history of Lehigh basketball to have his jersey number retired, and the first since 1988. He has of course gone on to have great success with the Trail Blazers, teaming with another small school phenom to form one of the most dynamic back-courts in the NBA.
What’s your favorite March Madness moment? Who can be this year’s Lehigh? Let us know in the comments!