C.J. McCollum suffered the biggest setback of his basketball career early this year.
He fractured a bone in his left foot during a game on Jan. 5, ending his senior season at Lehigh University.
After the final buzzer, McCollum lay on a trainer's table in the locker room. His foot throbbed. He worried about his playing future.
Then, his teammates paid him the ultimate compliment. Instead of holding their customary postgame huddle in the middle of the locker room, they relocated the huddle to McCollum. They encircled him and offered him their support.
"His teammates really wanted to stand by him at that time," Lehigh coach Brett Reed remembers.
"He's won over a lot of people."
These days, McCollum, a 6-foot-3 combo guard, is discovering that he may have won over NBA talent evaluators, too.
Now fully healed, he will enter the NBA Draft on June 27 as one of the most highly rated perimeter players. The Magic could target him, especially if the team trades down to a spot a little bit later in the first round.
Jack Greynolds Jr., who coached McCollum at GlenOak High School in Canton, Ohio, has been inundated with phone calls from NBA scouts and executives asking about McCollum. Greynolds said the Magic were one of the first teams to call.
There's a reason for that.
McCollum twice won Patriot League Player of the Year honors — first as a freshman and again as a junior — and led Lehigh to an upset win over Duke in the second round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament, scoring 30 points in that victory.
McCollum might be the best shooter in the entire draft, perhaps eclipsing even Kansas Jayhawks wing Ben McLemore. Before his injury, McCollum was averaging 23.9 points per game as a senior and was making almost 52 percent of his attempts from 3-point range.
"I think I'm a very unique player who can shoot the ball," McCollum said. "So I feel like I can play alongside anybody and fit any role that's necessary."
Perhaps that even includes a role as an NBA point guard.
Reed, his coach at Lehigh, thinks McCollum can do it.
When McCollum arrived at Lehigh, the Mountain Hawks had a highly regarded senior on their roster who played point guard. The next year, Lehigh recruited a player who was best suited to play point guard.
Those players' presence prompted Reed to play McCollum at shooting guard. But because McCollum is a stellar rebounder for someone his size, he often initiated fastbreaks and was the team's primary decision-maker in transition.
"In my opinion," Reed said, "he'd be by far the best point guard in our league over the decade I've been involved in Patriot League basketball."
The phrase "Patriot League basketball" might conjure up some doubts. No one doubts that Lehigh played a lower level of competition night-in, night-out than McLemore's Jayhawks or Trey Burke's Michigan Wolverines or Michael Carter-Williams' Syracuse Orange.
Then again, McCollum always drew the most attention from opposing defenses, too.
He also draws comparisons to another 6-foot-3 guard who played at a mid-major school, Damian Lillard.
Lillard played four seasons at Weber State, where he suffered a foot injury as a junior similar to McCollum's.
The Portland Trail Blazers used the sixth pick to select Lillard, and the rest is a fairy tale. Lillard averaged 19.0 points per game and won NBA Rookie of the Year honors.
Now, McCollum might become the next mid-major player to be drafted in the top 10.
McCollum, who majored in journalism at Lehigh, asked Magic officials plenty of questions when he met with them last month at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago.
"I think they're going to take a guard," McCollum said afterward. "I think I'm definitely high on their list."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun