Portland Trail Blazers guard McCollum has been one of the biggest reasons his team is in the postseason, averaging 21 points, four rebounds and three assists per game in the 2018-19 season. His NBA career is an extension of his earlier success at the collegiate level.
McCollum began his collegiate career after graduating from Glen Oak High School in Canton, Ohio. As a freshman in the 2009-10 season, McCollum led not only his alma mater Lehigh in scoring but the entire Patriot League and won the league’s Player of the Year award. McCollum was also an instant sensation on the defensive end of the court, leading the league in steals.
Lehigh, which is located in Bethlehem, Penn., won 22 games that season and qualified for the NCAA men’s tournament for the first time in six years. The Mountain Hawks lost their opening-round game to top-seeded Kansas, however.
After McCollum’s sophomore season of 2010-11 which saw Lehigh go 16-15 and fail to reach the NCAA tournament, McCollum and the Mountain Hawks had their most successful campaign of his career in his junior year of 2011-12.
McCollum averaged 21.9 points per game that season, again leading the league in scoring to win the league’s Player of the Year award for a second time. Again, McCollum was a stalwart defensively, leading the league in defensive efficiency and steals as a junior. Lehigh went 27-8 that season and won its NCAA tournament opening-round game against Duke in a rare 15-over-a-2 upset. That Cinderella story was short-lived, however, as it would fall in its next game to Xavier.
McCollum’s senior season was a repeat of his sophomore year in which the Mountain Hawks failed to reach the NCAA tournament even though they won 21 games. McCollum actually had his best season statistically in 2012-13, averaging 23.9 points along with five rebounds and 2.9 assists per contest.
His collegiate totals of 2,361 points, 696 rebounds, 304 rebounds, and 228 steals along with 86 wins helped make him the 10th-overall selection in the 2013 NBA Draft. The Trail Blazers have enjoyed his services since, leading to three 50-win seasons. Portland has made the playoffs every year since drafting McCollum.
Even though the Trail Blazers have qualified for the postseason every year, success in the playoffs has been limited during McCollum’s career. In three of the five playoff runs including McCollum, Portland lost its opening-round series. After early exits in both the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, the Trail Blazers’ failures to advance in the NBA’s Western Conference bracket drew the ire of a disgruntled fan to which McCollum responded on Twitter.
McCollum further responded to the criticism on Sunday in Game 1 of the Portland’s Western Conference quarterfinals series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, despite being a question mark with a strained left knee. McCollum scored 24 points, grabbed six rebounds and made three assists to complement going 3-for-5 from 3-point range to help the Trail Blazers take a 1-0 lead in the series 104-99. Game 2 will be Tuesday, April 16, in Portland at 10:30 p.m. ET and broadcast on TNT.
McCollum was among the best collegiate players in the nation during his four years at Lehigh and has been an integral part of Portland’s success since being drafted by the Trail Blazers. All he lacks is further postseason success to propel his legacy.