The Portland Trail Blazers have started off the season well largely in part to the contributions of CJ McCollum, who has stepped up considerably in these first few games. According to Jason Quick of the Athletic, McCollum’s hot start is due to three factors: preparation with Coach Jonathan Yim, commitment from his wife, and support from his brother. First, he met with Coach Yim over brunch to discuss the start of the season and set goals.
“Over brunch, we broke down my whole game, and then we wrote down what we wanted to accomplish and how we were going to do it,” McCollum said. “Then we got to work on it.”
One goal centered around the injury to his back, as McCollum wanted to be certain he came back stronger and stable.
“Breaking my back, I had to figure out how to get more stability through exercise and work,” McCollum said. “It was so I would be stronger, and not only be able to increase my range, but able to shoot more easily and fluid off the bounce. I shoot the step-back from midrange all the time, so why can’t I shoot that from three more feet, from 3? But I had to get in shape to play like that.”
Second, he told his wife, Elise, what he hopes to achieve before he retires.
“I told my wife what I wanted to accomplish before I retire,” McCollum said. “I told her where I’m at now, where I want to be, and what it’s going to take.”
It would mean getting up in the middle of the night to hook up electronic stimulation to heal his muscles. It would mean leaving the house for late-night shooting sessions. It would mean having physical therapists arrive at their home at 7 a.m.
“She was all in,” McCollum said. “She gets it, what I want to accomplish.”
However, McCollum insists that status isn’t important to him.
“I’m very wealthy, man. I live a good life,” McCollum said. “I don’t need status from where I come from. I’m a legend, you know what I mean? What I’ve been able to overcome in my life: went to a small school, I was small, didn’t have a lot of offers, didn’t play right away, I was hurt. … I solidified a lot in my short time, on and off the court.
“I’m not a people pleaser. I don’t need to be liked by people. And I don’t need notoriety. I get notoriety from the people that matter. The people whose opinion matter value me,” McCollum said. “I’m at this point in my life, man, where that stuff, if it happens? Great. If not? I just want to win games. I made a lot of money, and I will make more money. I want to win games, and win championships, and when I retire, they can debate whatever they want to debate. But if I have a ring, I don’t really care.”
Finally, he spoke with his brother, who plays overseas.
“He always tells me that I turn the switch on when I have to,” McCollum said. “But he said that I need to keep it on. For me, that’s all he had to say.”
McCollum hopes he has flipped the switch, and that it stays on as he meets his goals.
“People always make this thing about, you know ‘We need a backup point guard …’ and it’s like, look: I can run a team,” McCollum said. “It’s not an issue. It’s just more so what you are asked to do. And obviously, I’ve gotten better at it. I know how to score, but I also know how to keep people involved and do those things.”
He said one of the goals he and Yim established over brunch was to average five assists. He’s at 5.8 entering Sunday’s game.
“I would probably be averaging seven assists if Gary (Trent Jr.) didn’t get hurt,” McCollum said.
McCollum attributes this change to mental as well as physical preparedness.
“I’ve had stretches where I’ve been super dominant, but it’s up there,” McCollum said. “I’m 29, almost 30 now, so I’m at that point where I really know how to play basketball, and it’s kind of coming together nicely.”
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