Behind Neil Olshey's excitement for Blazers' rookies is talent and some grit

Behind Neil Olshey's excitement for Blazers' rookies is talent and some grit

Before Trail Blazers rookies Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan even put on a Portland jersey, there have been some pretty heady statements tossed around.

Collins, on the night he was drafted No. 10 overall, confidently and matter-of-factly stated that he doesn’t see a reason why he can’t win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year.

And for Swanigan, the 26th overall pick, his surrogate father Roosevelt Barnes said on Monday that the goal is for the 6-foot-9 forward to some day lead the NBA in rebounding.

It’s part of the reason why Blazers’ president of basketball operations Neil Olshey has been buzzing since Thursday’s draft, telling any one and every one about the skill of Collins and the toughness and relentless nature of Swanigan.

“We are incredibly pleased with what we were able to accomplish in the draft with both of these guys,’’ Olshey said Monday.

Not since 2013, when Olshey gushed about stealing CJ McCollum with the 10th overall pick, has Olshey been so effusive in praise of his picks.

His confidence flies in the face of critics who say the 19-year-old Collins didn’t start in high school until his senior year, and came off the bench during his only season at Gonzaga.  It also belies those who say that Swanigan is a “tweener” who is not quick enough to guard small forwards and not big enough to neutralize power forwards.

So what is it about these two that has Olshey so enthusiastic?

The more people talk about Collins and Swanigan, the more the same words keep surfacing: Fight. Tough. Compete.

“They are aggressive,’’ coach Terry Stotts said. “And I like their mentality.’’


Swanigan has a well-documented background of living in homeless shelters as a youth and attending more than a dozen schools between Indianapolis and Salt Lake City.

His father was in and out of jail, and struggled with drug addiction, which eventually contributed to his death at the age of 50. It is the reason Swanigan will wear No. 50 for the Trail Blazers.

Compounding his childhood struggles was a weight problem that Swanigan says ballooned to 350 pounds as an eighth grader.

When he was 13, at the urging of his older brother, Caleb was adopted by Roosevelt Barnes, a former three-sport athlete at Purdue who became a sports agent. Barnes, who played three seasons as a linebacker for the Detroit Lions in the NFL, had coached Caleb’s brother in AAU basketball.

“He gave me structure early on, support, everything you would want a father to do for you,’’ Swanigan said. “He’s always held me accountable, always told me the truth in everything I did, and that’s all I could ask from someone.’’

At first, Swanigan was a tough shell to crack.

“Very quiet. Very guarded,’’ Barnes said. “Which was natural because of the environment he was in. He didn’t express a lot. But he was always really intelligent.’’

An early conversation, Barnes said, was teaching Swanigan the origin of his first name.

“First thing we talked about was who he was and what his name meant,’’ Barnes said.

He told him the Biblical story of Caleb, and how he was one of Moses 12 spies.

“Caleb made it to the Promised Land,’’ Barnes said. “So I told him he was supposed to make it.’’

The biggest lesson in his quest for the Promised Land, Swanigan said, was developing a work ethic. In six years, he shed 100 pounds and earned Indiana’s Mr. Basketball award as the state’s top prep player. He went on to attend Purdue, where he shed 15 more pounds and became the Big Ten player of the year last season.

“Never stop working, that’s my biggest thing I try to carry about myself,’’ Swanigan said. “Always keep working, always keep my head down and focused on a narrow path.’’


While Swanigan’s story is more rags-to-riches, Collins has been groomed to be on the elite stage from an early age.

But that hasn’t come without some hardship.

He was white in a black-man’s game, and even though he was skilled, he went through an awkward stage during a late-growth spurt.

“I just think from a young age, regardless if I’m white or black, I’ve been doubted and had certain expectations that I’ve exceeded,’’ Collins said.

At Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, the school won four consecutive state titles, but he wasn’t a starter until his senior season.

“The simple answer is I was a late bloomer,’’ Collins said. “Up until my junior year, I wasn’t a jumper. My sophomore year I was 6-foot-7, 6-foot-8, and I could barely dunk. My body just took a long time to develop. So from middle school to high school a lot of people have doubted what I can do on the court.’’

Once his body was done growing into its 7-foot frame, he still had the skill of a 6-foot-5 wing.

“At first I wasn’t very quick, I was a little clumsy, then once my body developed, people understood that I could actually play,’’ Collins said.

It’s not just the skills that stand out with Collins, however. His demeanor, according to Olshey and Stotts, is that of a winner. He fights for rebounds. He challenges people trying to dunk. He scraps on the floor for loose balls. And above all, he carries himself with an air that he belongs.

“My dad was a guy who taught me to never back down from anybody,’’ Collins said.

His dad, Mike, is 6-foot-10 and was once the Nevada high school player of the year. He went on to play collegiately at New Mexico State and was planning to transfer to Duke before he had a severe foot injury that ended his career.

“When he played he wasn’t the most skilled guy on the court all the time, but he was probably the meanest wherever he went,’’ Collins said. “That kind of runs in the family.’’

If Mike was the meanest wherever he went, Collins’ mom, Heather, might be the toughest.

“My mom is a fighter ,’’ Collins said. “Everybody hears about my dad, and that’s great, but mom is really the one who holds it down at home.’’

Heather was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when Zach was a child.

“She acts like she doesn’t have it,’’ Collins said. “She’s probably going to be mad I told you, because she doesn’t want people to feel sorry for her. She just fights through it. You wouldn’t be able to tell unless you knew.’’


The first test for both rookies will be at the Las Vegas Summer League. The Blazers kick off their schedule on July 8 against Utah, when Collins is expected to start at center and Swanigan at power forward.

It will be the first inkling whether Olshey’s giddy mood the past week is warranted.

For Swanigan, he says fans should not judge him on his stats, but rather his effort. If at any time they don’t feel like he is giving effort, he says they should “boo me off the court.’’

Much of that effort, he says, will be exerted in the pursuit of rebounds.

What makes a good rebounder?

“Going every time. That mentality. There’s nothing else but that. Wanting the rebound every time,’’ Swanigan said. “And not being tired. So you have to be in the best shape if you want to be the best rebounder.’’

At Purdue last season, Swanigan led the Big Ten with 12.5 rebounds as a sophomore and had the nation’s No. 2 defensive rebounding percentage.

“If you are going to be a great rebounder – you have to have want-to,’’ Barnes, his adopted father said. “He wants to be best rebounder in the league. He’s always been the best rebounder wherever he has been – every team, every league – he has always been the best. So his goal is to come here and be the No. 1 rebounder in the NBA. Most people, they think about they want to score – he wants to do the dirty work.’’

Collins, meanwhile, already has his teammates intrigued.

McCollum has amassed a scouting report on Collins and came away impressed.

“Collins is polished and very skilled,’’ McCollum said. “I hear comparisons to (Orlando center Nik) Vucevic. I think he has a big ceiling.’’

Whether the heady talk and exuberant moods of executives is warranted will play out over the coming seasons, although Olshey forecasted that both rookies will make a contribution this season.

“I’m going to try and go in and have high goals for myself,’’ Collins said.

And that, is a start.








CJ McCollum: I'm Trying Jennifer

USA Today

CJ McCollum: I'm Trying Jennifer

Social media was its usual self on Wednesday, blowing up after a video surfaced of Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum talking about superteams on China Central Television (CCTV). Asked about his thoughts on players like Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins joining the Warriors to chase rings, McCollum said "I would never do anything of that nature. I think it's disgusting. I'm not built like those guys, I was raised differently. 

Seems innocent enough, but this is where social media took over. McCollum responded to a tweet, saying "Y’all stay bringing up old stuff. Yall got me out here looking like a bitter ex. 1 of the best teams ever assembled W/ 2 players you could argue are top 15 greatest to lace them up. 4 hall of "famers w/ another one on the way. I’m happy stop making me look like a scorn man sheesh"

Of course, NBA fans had to troll McCollum. Enter Jennifer. She tweeted back at McCollum "Win a playoff game then talk." His response has since gone viral - 

"I'm trying Jennifer."

Rip City fans went wild. People were asking about making shirts, banners, and anything else. It almost became a rallying cry. Even McCollum himself had fun with it.

Ask and you shall receive. 

CJ McCollum makes B/R's list of NBA sidekicks who could star in a different situation

CJ McCollum makes B/R's list of NBA sidekicks who could star in a different situation

Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley posted a blog today listing out "NBA Sidekicks Who Could Star in Different Situations."

On his short list was none other than Portland Trail Blazer CJ McCollum. Buckley writes:

Inside the lines, though, McCollum can mostly go step-for-step with his higher-profile backcourt mate. Because McCollum plays the Robin role for the Portland Trail Blazers, the volume edge goes Lillard's way. But McCollum has had the higher field-goal and three-point percentages each of the last three seasons, and his career slash line comfortably wins both of those levels.

You can read the full story, and the full analysis of McCollum's potential in the B/R story. Of note, McCollum was the only Western Conference player to make the list. 

Over his five year NBA career, McCollum is averaging 17.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 2.9 assits per game while shooting an impressive 40.8% from three and 84.2% from the free throw line. 

Blazer fans love them some Damian and CJ backcourt action and President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey has repeatedly said he will not break up the backcourt, which seems to sit just fine with fans and Lillard and McCollum who have developed into quite the dynamic duo for Portland. 


Nerding out on Trail Blazer schedule analytics

Nerding out on Trail Blazer schedule analytics

After any professional team has its regular season schedule released, it’s time for the analytics gurus to shine with the various stats and information out there about when, where, and how a team will play a game on any given day. While I am not a stat nerd, the NBA did some of the work for me so let's dive into some interesting stats that were pointed out in a document sent over by the NBA along with the team's schedule as well as some various observations from our first day of analyzing it. 

Overall the NBA has one fewer back-to-back game on average for all 32 teams. 
As for the Blazers, with their 12 total back-to-back contests, they have three less than last season. 
Breaking down those 12 back-to-backs includes three pairs where no travel is involved, five pairs with short travel (under 750 miles) and four pairs with longer travel (over 750 miles).

HOME: 6   AWAY: 4

HOME: 4   AWAY: 6

The Blazers will have 10 total games (same as last season) that will be “tired” games.

On the flip side, the Blazers have 8 "fresh" games for a Net rating of -2 (last year they were -1)

*Team is considered “tired” if it plays the day before and its opponent does not.
*Team is considered “fresh” if it did not play the day before and its opponent did.

11 days, 6 games from November 1st through November 11th

13 days, 7 games from February 21st through March 5th

The Trail Blazers will travel the most miles in the season with a total of 54,333 miles in distance traveled.

The entire 82 game Trail Blazer schedule is out!


The entire 82 game Trail Blazer schedule is out!

Schedule Links:
Read - Jamie Hudson breaks down the key parts of the season
Watch - The road trip that could define the season

The Full Schedule:

Thu. 18-Oct-18 L.A. Lakers 7:30 PM (TNT)

Sat. 20-Oct-18 San Antonio 7:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Mon. 22-Oct-18 Washington 7:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Thu. 25-Oct-18 at Orlando 4:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Sat. 27-Oct-18 at Miami 5:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Mon. 29-Oct-18 at Indiana 4:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Tue. 30-Oct-18 at Houston 5:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Thu. 1-Nov-18 New Orleans 7:30 PM (TNT) 

Sat. 3-Nov-18 L.A. Lakers 7:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Sun. 4-Nov-18 Minnesota 6:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Tue. 6-Nov-18 Milwaukee 7:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Thu. 8-Nov-18 L.A. Clippers 7:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Sun. 11-Nov-18 Boston 6:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Wed. 14-Nov-18 at L.A. Lakers 7:30 PM (ESPN)

Fri. 16-Nov-18 at Minnesota 5:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Sun. 18-Nov-18 at Washington 3:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Tue. 20-Nov-18 at New York 4:30 PM (NBCS NW)

Wed. 21-Nov-18 at Milwaukee 5:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Fri. 23-Nov-18 at Golden State 7:30 PM (NBCS NW)

Sun. 25-Nov-18 L.A. Clippers 6:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Wed. 28-Nov-18 Orlando 7:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Fri. 30-Nov-18 Denver 7:30 PM ESPN (NBCS NW)

Sun. 2-Dec-18 at San Antonio 5:30 PM (NBCS NW)

Tue. 4-Dec-18 at Dallas 5:30 PM (NBCS NW)

Thu. 6-Dec-18 Phoenix 7:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Sat. 8-Dec-18 Minnesota 7:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Tue. 11-Dec-18 at Houston 5:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Wed. 12-Dec-18 at Memphis 5:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Fri. 14-Dec-18 Toronto 7:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Mon. 17-Dec-18 at L.A. Clippers 7:30 PM (NBCS NW)

Wed. 19-Dec-18 Memphis 7:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Fri. 21-Dec-18 Utah 7:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Sun. 23-Dec-18 Dallas 6:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Tue. 25-Dec-18 at Utah 7:30 PM (NBCS NW and ESPN) 

Thu. 27-Dec-18 at Golden State 7:30 PM (NBCS NW)

Sat. 29-Dec-18 Golden State 7:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Sun. 30-Dec-18 Philadelphia 6:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Tue. 1-Jan-19 at Sacramento 6:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Fri. 4-Jan-19 Oklahoma City 7:30 PM (NBCS NW and ESPN)

Sat. 5-Jan-19 Houston 7:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Mon. 7-Jan-19 New York 7:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Wed. 9-Jan-19 Chicago 7:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Fri. 11-Jan-19 Charlotte 7:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Sun. 13-Jan-19 at Denver 5:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Mon. 14-Jan-19 at Sacramento 7:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Wed. 16-Jan-19 Cleveland 7:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Fri. 18-Jan-19 New Orleans 7:30 PM (NBCS NW and ESPN)

Mon. 21-Jan-19 at Utah 6:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Tue. 22-Jan-19 at Oklahoma City 5:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Thu. 24-Jan-19 at Phoenix 6:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Sat. 26-Jan-19 Atlanta 7:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Wed. 30-Jan-19 Utah 7:30 PM (NBCS NW and ESPN)

Tue. 5-Feb-19 Miami 7:30 PM (TNT)

Thu. 7-Feb-19 San Antonio 7:30 PM (TNT)

Sun. 10-Feb-19 at Dallas 12:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Mon. 11-Feb-19 at Oklahoma City 5:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Wed. 13-Feb-19 Golden State 7:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Thu. 21-Feb-19 at Brooklyn 4:30 PM (NBCS NW)

Sat. 23-Feb-19 at Philadelphia 10:00 AM (NBCS NW)

Mon. 25-Feb-19 at Cleveland 4:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Wed. 27-Feb-19 at Boston 4:30 PM (NBCS NW)

Fri. 1-Mar-19 at Toronto 4:30 PM (NBCS NW)

Sun. 3-Mar-19 at Charlotte 10:00 AM (NBCS NW)

Tue. 5-Mar-19 at Memphis 5:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Thu. 7-Mar-19 Oklahoma City 7:30 PM (TNT)

Sat. 9-Mar-19 Phoenix 7:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Tue. 12-Mar-19 at L.A. Clippers 7:30 PM (NBCS NW)

Fri. 15-Mar-19 at New Orleans 5:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Sat. 16-Mar-19 at San Antonio 5:30 PM (NBCS NW)

Mon. 18-Mar-19 Indiana 7:30 PM ESPN (NBCS NW)

Wed. 20-Mar-19 Dallas 7:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Sat. 23-Mar-19 Detroit 7:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Mon. 25-Mar-19 Brooklyn 7:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Wed. 27-Mar-19 at Chicago 5:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Fri. 29-Mar-19 at Atlanta 4:30 PM (NBCS NW)

Sat. 30-Mar-19 at Detroit 4:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Mon. 1-Apr-19 at Minnesota 5:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Wed. 3-Apr-19 Memphis 7:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Fri. 5-Apr-19 at Denver 7:30 PM (NBCS NW and ESPN)

Sun. 7-Apr-19 Denver 6:00 PM (NBCS NW)

Tue. 9-Apr-19 at L.A. Lakers 7:30 PM (NBCS NW)

Wed. 10-Apr-19 Sacramento 7:30 PM (NBCS NW)

The Hammer is showing off this summer

USA Today

The Hammer is showing off this summer

Trail Blazers big man Meyers Leonard has been putting in a ton of work on the court this offseason and doing some serious damage to innocent rims around the country. Just check out this clip that Chris Grenham uploaded to Twitter. Marcus Smart with the full-court pass to Leonard, and The Hammer finishes the alley-oop in style.  BOOM SHAKALAKA

Trail Blazers a part of marquee games this NBA season

Trail Blazers a part of marquee games this NBA season

The countdown to the 2018-19 NBA season is on!

News is starting to trickle out about the NBA schedule and the Portland Trail Blazers will be playing in a couple of big events this season.

The Blazers longest active win streak over any one team in franchise history will be on the line on Day One of the regular season...

Yes, Portland’s season will start off with a bang!  The Blazers welcome in LeBron James and the LA Lakers to tip-off the regular season on Thursday, October 18th.  Blazer fans will be the first to see what LeBron can do with a young Lakers team that now also includes Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and JaValle McGee.

Last season, Portland split its series vs. LeBron and the Cavs, with each team winning at home.

And get ready for this Blazers fans — The Trail Blazers have a Christmas Day Game! Portland will travel to Utah to face the Jazz on December 25th.

This marks the first Christmas Day game for both teams in several years. Portland hasn’t played on Christmas since 2010, while the featured game for Utah dates all the way back to 1997.

Historically, the Blazers have had a lot of success on the December holiday, with a 14-3 overall record.  However, in the most recent X-mas matchup, Portland lost at Golden State, 109-102.

Just something to keep in mind, the home team is 142–75 in Christmas games.

So now that the ‘big games’ have been released, you only have to wait a few more days for the entire 2018-19 regular season slate.

Report: Trail Blazers to play Jazz on Christmas Day

USA Today Images

Report: Trail Blazers to play Jazz on Christmas Day

According to ESPN’s Chris Haynes, the Portland Trail Blazers will be a part of the Christmas Day slate with Portland traveling to Utah.


Al-Farouq Aminu with solid outing in NBA Africa Game

Al-Farouq Aminu with solid outing in NBA Africa Game

The NBA Africa Game took place this year in South Africa with a star studded lineup of Team Africa vs. Team World. 

The Portland Trail Blazers will represented by Al-Farouq Aminu, who is from Nigeria, who put up a solid stat line of 2 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 5 steals over the course of 20 minutes of playing time. 

In the end Team World would come away with the victory, led by 23 points from Danilo Gallinari. Joel Embiid led Team Africa in scoring with 24. 

Check out the game highlights above and you can see some of Aminu's highlights embeded below.


Summer Scoop: Countdown to NBA preseason

NBCS Northwest

Summer Scoop: Countdown to NBA preseason

Jamie Hudson and Chris Burkhardt have the latest on the Blazers offseason after watching the recent sit-down interview between Brooke Olzendam and Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey had a lot to say to Blazers fans about this offseason. Plus, it's time to look at the biggest #RipCity trending topics and Jamie and Chris take questions from facebook as we all countdown to preseason NBA basketball. 

Summer Scoop

How’s everybody’s summer going? Who else is counting down the days until Trail Blazers basketball is back???

Posted by NBC Sports Northwest on Thursday, August 2, 2018