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C.J. McCollum's basketball journey begins now

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C.J. McCollum's basketball journey begins now

NEW YORK -- For C.J. McCollum, step one is complete.

On Thursday night, he walked across the stage at the Barclays Center, was handed a hat with the Portland Trail Blazers' logo and completed his dream of being drafted in the NBA.

His pick: First round, 10th overall.

“It’s only step one,” his father Errick McCollum Sr. told CSNPhilly.com.

Yes, only step one.

The next step is to pick up where he left off at Lehigh University.

McCollum is known for his perimeter skills -- he shot 49.5 percent last season and 51.6 percent from three. He led the Mountain Hawks in scoring last year, averaging 23.9 points in his senior season before fracturing his left foot in January. He holds the Patriot League record for most points scored with 2,361.

But for all the positive stats and reviews coming into the draft, there were scouts who still weren’t impressed. They felt McCollum, though a talented scorer, would be average when his skills were matched up against the NBA's best and not foes in the NCAA's Patriot League. Nothing spectacular. No superstar potential.

Told this before he walked across the stage to shake David Stern’s hand, McCollum told CSNPhilly.com: “I play for myself and my family. It’s not about proving people wrong anymore. I’m going to be in the NBA. It’s about being successful and outlasting. You got to beat the average. You got to beat that 4.7 years (average span of a player’s career), you got to outlast that and try to get that second and third contract.

“I’m going to do whatever is possible to be that guy that comes out of this draft class. There’s always busts. There’s always guys that sneak up on you. Hopefully, I’m one of the guys that sneaks up on you.”

McCollum (6-3/200) will join a team with reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, and for the moment, all-star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who has been rumored to be on the trading block.

McCollum already has visions of Portland’s backcourt being dynamic. The Lehigh product mixed with Lillard -- he smiled when talking about it.

“It’s a blessing to be able to play in the NBA,” he said. “It’s even more of a blessing to be able to play with the Rookie of the Year. A guy that you can kind of learn from. A guy who has been in simular situations as you. .... He’s where I am trying to get. ... He’s had a huge impact in his rookie year; one of two rookies to play all 82 games. ... I have a lot to learn and I am looking forward to it.”

But there is a confidence in the 22-year-old from Canton, Ohio. A confidence that he’ll produce better than expected. A confidence that Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts may see when McCollum arrives in Portland. His dad already sees it.

“He’ll be the best,” McCollum Sr. said. “And I’m not just saying that cause I am his father. He’ll be the best. Keep track of him. You’ll see.”

Told of his father’s comments, McCollum responded. “He's supposed to say that. He’s my dad. But at the same time, he knows how hard I work.”

Those who watched McCollum at Lehigh know how hard he’s worked, too. When Stern called his name, there was a loud roar, as fans cheered McCollum, who became the first Lehigh product to be drafted and the second player in the history of the Patriot League. Adonal Foyle (Colgate) was the first player to be drafted from the league in 1991.

“I’m just thankful to be in the position where I can represent my home state, my home city, Lehigh and my family,” McCollum said.

He reflected for a moment when a reporter asked about revisiting those times when making it to the NBA seemed so far away, like a goal that would never be reached.

“It seemed really far away when I was 5-foot-2 in my senior year in high school,” McCollum said. “It seemed a little bit closer as I got to college. When I broke my foot, it seemed a little bit further away in my senior year [at Lehigh], but then I realized I had a really good chance to make it to the NBA.”

Asked beforehand if he was nervous, McCollum said no. “Anxious,” he responded.

Anxious to start his NBA story. Anxious to be prove his dad correct.

For C.J. McCollum, it starts now. Right now.

Bennett joins GrandMama
When the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Anthony Bennett with the first overall pick, the 6-foot-8 forward became the second player in UNLV history to be drafted No. 1, joining Larry Johnson.

Bennett averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds in his only season with the Runnin' Rebels.

Bennett said he was told of the resemblance to Johnson’s game, so he took some time to dig up old film. It was the 1990 NCAA championship game when Johnson’s squad knocked off Duke, 103-73. Johnson finished that game with 22 points and 11 rebounds.
 
“I kind of see where the comparisons are coming from,” Bennett said.

Joel Embiid thinks his minutes restriction is 'f---ing BS'

Joel Embiid thinks his minutes restriction is 'f---ing BS'

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid is letting it be known he is unhappy about his minute restrictions to start the season.

"That's f---ing BS," he said after practice Tuesday. "I wish I was playing more minutes. I think I'm ready for more than I don't know whatever number they have."

The Sixers are eyeing 16 minutes for Embiid on opening night on Wednesday. He played nearly 15 minutes in his two preseason games and feels he can handle more, adding his previously-injured left knee and ankle "felt great." 

He has expressed his feelings to the team. 

"I always think I have a voice so I'm sure they're listening to what I have to say too," he said. "But they're making a decision based on what they think. But I think that's BS."

Embiid's desire to play more minutes likely will be an ongoing situation this season, or at least early on. He expected to be cleared for 24 minutes at this point. (In comparison, he logged 22:25 last opening night.) Embiid feels the best way to get his body in game shape is to actually be in the game, not training on a cardio machine. 

"I think the concept of minute restrictions is kind of complicated," Embiid said. "I don't think there should ever be minute restrictions. I think it should always be about how my body feels and how it's reacting." 

The Sixers, however, are continuing to proceed with caution with the injury-prone big man. After missing his first two years because of his foot, he underwent season-ending knee surgery in March. Embiid also sprained his left ankle in the preseason finale. He has not played in a regular-season game since Jan. 27. 

Add that to the fact Embiid is a centerpiece of their future after inking him to a five-year, $146.5 contract extension last week.

"They know that I'm frustrated, but once again you've got to trust the doctors," Embiid said. "They care about me. It's all about the long-term view." 

The coaching staff is faced with the tricky task of managing Embiid's allotted minutes over a 48-minute span. Brett Brown is considering using up his playing time in the first half instead of spacing it out to have him available in the fourth quarter. 

Embiid estimates if he started the third, as an example, he would be resting for 16 minutes before he got the nod late in the final quarter. He said that is "tough" on both his body and on the coaches. Brown agrees after trying to balance his playing time last season. 

"You think it's smart to save four minutes to end a game with him, but the canyons in between where he just sits there and sits there and then he's got to come in and save the day, I don't know if I like that," Brett Brown said. 

"It's on my mind, do we just spend our money and we'll get you more money the next game and so on, and just play him regularly and grow it from that base versus he sits forever and then he's just got to come in and save the day. Or oops, it goes to overtime and, 'Sorry, you can't play against Memphis in overtime.'"

The Sixers will have to balance the medical staff's minute guidelines with Embiid's intense desire to be on the court and the team's record. They are looking to make a significant push in the win column, and Embiid is the driving force behind that jump.

"I think this is a big year for the whole team and me personally," Embiid said. "I feel like I've got something to prove, too. So I want to be out there with my teammates and win some games."

If it were Embiid's call, he would play until he didn't feel like he could anymore. It's not up to him, though. And so there's just one thing left for him to do.

"Like I always say," he said, "you've got to trust the process."

Banged-up Markelle Fultz is latest chapter in Sixers' painful rookie history

Banged-up Markelle Fultz is latest chapter in Sixers' painful rookie history

CAMDEN, N.J. — Brett Brown has been here before. The scenario isn’t as drastic as in the past, but it’s familiar nonetheless: starting the season with an injured rookie for the fifth straight year.

Markelle Fultz will begin his first NBA season dealing with ongoing right shoulder and right knee soreness. The No. 1 pick is expected to play on opening night Wednesday, but will come off the bench after appearing in only two preseason games. 

Brown has learned to manage this type of situation after years of experience. Nerlens Noel missed Brown’s entire first season because of an ACL injury. Joel Embiid sat out the following two seasons with foot injuries. Ben Simmons suffered a season-ending foot fracture in last year’s training camp. 

The biggest lesson? 

“To go slow,” Brown said. “To not put them in a position where it’s going to produce some difficult times.” 

Fultz was likely to be a starter when the Sixers traded up to draft him first overall in June. The 19-year-old guard hasn’t had that much experience since then thanks to injuries in both summer league and preseason. 

The Sixers face John Wall, Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry in the first three games alone. That would be a tall defensive task if Fultz were to start. 

“This league is driven by men, this league is driven by veterans,” Brown said. “To just put him in that environment is just, I think, poor coaching and I’m not doing it.”

Just as Simmons took advice from Embiid during his injury, he is offering words of wisdom to Fultz.

“[You’ve] got to to take your time and you definitely have to take care of your body,” Simmons said. “Put your body first. There’s no need to rush.”

The Sixers have the backcourt depth to adjust without Fultz in the starting lineup. They have been turning to veteran Jerryd Bayless at shooting guard alongside Simmons, their intended backcourt pairing last season. 

In the meantime, Brown will balance Fultz’s health, his growth as an NBA player, and the team’s success. 

“The end game needs to be developing Markelle Fultz," Brown said.