I Found the Next Stephen Curry
Editor's note: Before every NBA draft prospect becomes an NBA draft prospect, he must be discovered. Former Lehigh University assistant coach and current Whitworth University head coach Matt Logie had the good fortune of discovering likely lottery pick C.J. McCollum before anyone knew just how good he would turn out. Bleacher Report asked Logie to tell us his unlikely story.
It was my moment to shine, just as much as it was his moment to shine.
After three years of toiling in administrative roles at Lehigh University, here I was on a recruiting mission as an official Division I assistant coach. At age 27, I was hardly an experienced evaluator or recruiter. In fact, this was the first AAU event I had ever attended in this role.
I walked into the rec center at Akron University in April of 2008 just hoping to finally set eyes on our most prized prospective recruits. First up was a local product from nearby Glen Oak High in Canton.
These are my notes from that first evaluation:
April 19, 2008 C.J. McCollum – Glen Oak / King James Shooting Stars - very thin, great stroke. needs strength, has long arms. great feel, wasn't soft. similar to Steph Curry. High ceiling, young body. Offer him.
Certainly I didn’t think C.J. would be the next Stephen Curry at this point. Many coaches weren’t even sure he could play Division I basketball. However, he did resemble a younger version of the baby-faced Davidson star that had just advanced his team to the Elite Eight.
He had legit credentials. As an undersized junior guard, he scored 54 points in the first game of his high school season. That’s impressive wherever you play, whenever you play, whomever you play.
I decided to take a flyer and call for his transcript. For many possible recruits, simply meeting Lehigh's high academic standards is the biggest hurdle.
The transcript showed C.J. was intelligent and a hardworking student. All the intangibles were there. He was small in stature, sure. But he dreamt big.
And after having seen C.J. play live in April, I needed game film to bring back to Coach Reed.
My notes from the game film passed along to Coach Reed in May:
5/22/2008 C.J. McCollum – Glen Oak / King James Shooting Stars - From Boo Williams Film: 24 pts, 2 rebs, 3 to's, 1 steal. 9/17 from floor (0-5 from 3). Slower release, but hard to contest because of high release point. Good change of pace. Didn't shoot 3 well in this game, but killed it when I saw live. handle solid, not quick/explosive but should improve with added strength/growth, def. not slow. Good vision. Good feel.
And then a week later.
5/28/2008 - C.J. McCollum – Glen Oak / King James Shooting Stars From Film vs. Team Stat: scorer's mentality. a little casual with the ball. demonstrates a fairly good handle. relies a lot on change of pace. seems to get by defenders by just enough. Doesn't really blow by them. Defense is poor. gambles too much. doesn't show very good foot speed or desire. Did a better job on the ball defensively in the 2nd half. Not very big.
It was very clear to me that C.J. was one of the top guards on our board heading into the July evaluation period. When given the opportunity to play in front of Coach Reed in July, C.J. did not disappoint.
Coach Reed and I were extremely worried leaving the gym that day. We hoped others hadn’t noticed the skinny, baby-faced kid among all the early-to-mature athletes playing that day.
7/17/2008 C.J. McCollum – Glen Oak / King James Shooting Stars at WV Jam Fest: Jumper is pure, finished with floaters, played PG at times, struggled a bit vs heavy pressure, but knows how to score at a very high clip. May be a tough get now.
As July progressed, our staff was at every game he played. C.J. knew we were only there for him. Throughout the process, the comparisons to Steph Curry were inescapable, and even C.J. embraced the reference point.
The fact that C.J. so clearly was not an NBA prospect at this time played favorably for us being that we were a high-end academic institution that would prepare him for life after basketball. This aspect to his recruitment provided a very strong ally: his mother Kathy. With her on board and our commitment to him never wavering, we were in a very strong position following his visit.
On September 19, 2008, C.J.’s 17th birthday, he committed to Lehigh University.
It was very clear in fall workouts that C.J. would probably average double figures as a freshman and be in the running for Rookie of the Year. After dropping 22 versus Quinnipiac in his third game, C.J. took over the starting 2-guard position from a previous Patriot League Rookie of the Year and appeared to be well on his way.
On January 5, 2010, our last non-conference game, he dropped 31-6-5 on Yale and dominated down the stretch. We knew at this point he could be an All-League player as a freshman.
By the midway point of conference play we realized he was in the running for Player of the Year. He would go on to win Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year in the same season, only the sixth time in the history of college basketball that had occurred to date.
Our team won the 2010 Patriot League Championship and was paired in the NCAA tournament with overall No. 1 seed Kansas. C.J. wanted his Steph Curry moment in the worst way. He tried so hard early—too hard, probably—and struggled to find a rhythm. Even in an off-performance, he posted 26 in the loss.
But we knew heading into the offseason we had an NBA prospect on our hands. Most importantly for the program, the seeds for his dominance over Duke in the 2012 NCAA tournament had been planted, and he was ready to water them.
When C.J. went for 30 points in one of the NCAA tournament's greatest upsets of all time, leading No. 15 seed Lehigh over perennial powerhouse No. 2 seed Duke, NBA scouts couldn't look away anymore.
"They had the best player on the court tonight in McCollum." — Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, head coach of the Duke Blue Devils, which had Seth Curry, Austin Rivers and Mason Plumlee on the floor that day.
In five months, C.J. went from unheralded recruit, to freshman at Lehigh University, to the leading freshman scorer in college basketball, to future NBA prospect.
Many players would rest on their laurels after a freshman campaign like that. Even more would transfer to a higher-profile program. But C.J. was loyal to Lehigh.
And I suspect it paid off. The chip on his shoulder accelerated his development, as did our heavy reliance on him to carry us offensively.
There is no secret to C.J.’s success. He works harder than anyone. He is a gym rat. He is uniquely competitive. When he’s not working on his game, he’s studying the game. He is a winner, both on and off the court.
Many are now predicting a Damian Lillard or Steph Curry-like rise for C.J. McCollum. After seeing him surpass all expectations once, I wouldn’t put anything past him, and I can’t wait to root him on.
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