CHICAGO - You could almost feel the relief pouring out of C.J. McCollum as he talked at the rookie predraft combine. An unlikely preseason All-America from Lehigh University, McCollum was leading the country in scoring at 25.7 a game when he broke his left foot on Jan. 5.
The hope was that the star guard, who had led the Mountain Hawks to an NCAA Tournament win over Duke last year, would be able to return at some point of the season. But the 6-3 McCollum never did get clearance and reluctantly had to become a spectator for the rest of the season.
He didn't get clearance to play until recently, and he's eager to show teams in the NBA that he is not only fully recovered, but also deserving of being a top 10 draft pick.
"It was very tough having to watch your team from the sidelines and knowing game in and game out you couldn't help them," McCollum said. "It was very tough, especially in your senior year when you come back, not only to get your degree, but to play on the big stage and try to get back to the NCAA Tournament. That was a tough experience. But I enjoyed every moment of it, and I think it made me a better person, and I think it was a blessing in disguise."
He is bright and very well spoken. He doesn't hide from the fact that he played for Lehigh, but rather emphatically says "Lehigh University," when he's talking about his old school. If his jumper or ballhandling or stamina give some teams questions, McCollum probably wowed them in his interview sessions.
A scoring guard at Lehigh, he knows he'll have to be both a point and shooter at the next level. If he doesn't possess something physically, it would be hard to tell talking to him. He oozes confidence.
"I consider myself a do-it-all guard, I can do it all, whatever is necessary to get the job done," he said. "If they want me to play the point guard at the next level, I feel I'm fully capable of doing that. If they need me to be off the ball at times . . . Whatever is necessary.
"I think I bring a lot of things. Having gone to 4 years of college, I think I'm mature, and mentally and physically able to contribute right away. Offensively, I think I can do a lot of things on the ball and off the ball. I'm pretty crafty on ball screens and pretty good at ready screens. You just get a heady player that's ready to come in and fit any system."
While finding a big, physical rebounder might be the first priority for the 76ers, who own the 11th pick, a backup point guard is also high on the list. And being one who also has scoring ability might make McCollum an intriguing pick, if he's still around.
"They definitely stick out to me. Playing 45 minutes away from Philadelphia at Lehigh University, they have been to a lot of games, had a lot of access to see me play," McCollum said. "That's definitely an intriguing team."
Few big men really stood out in workouts, though Bucknell's Mike Muscala did win most of his sprint races . . . Indiana's Cody Zeller tested very well and probably is the most athletic of the bigs, though he is rail-thin . . . Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas, a 6-7 lefthanded forward, shined in the morning workouts Thursday. He shot the ball extremely well and was very physical. He's projected as a middle second-rounder . . . Many mock drafts have the Sixers picking Kelly Olynyk from Gonzaga. The 7-footer showed nice ability to run the floor and has a very good outside shot, where he prefers to play. Seems as if the Sixers already have those type players . . . Michigan's Tim Hardaway Jr., with his dad in the stands, shot the ball extremely well . . . Duke's Mason Plumlee, a 6-11, 245-pounder, said he was a Sixers fan the past couple of years "because I'm a huge fan of coach [Doug] Collins." Now that Collins is gone as coach and is a team adviser, is he still a fan? "If they draft me, I will be."