McCollum Talks Nurkić, Lillard And Seeking Revenge On College Coaches During Vertical Podcast

Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum was a guest on the most recent edition of The Vertical podcast with Adrian Wojnarkowski. McCollum and Wojnarowski discuss a range of topics during the course of the 40-minute conversation from CJ’s philanthropic work — the podcast was recorded during a trip to one of the CJ McCollum Dream Centers at a local Boys & Girls Club — to dealing with expectations while during a lackluster season.

It’s worth listening to the entire interview, though some of the more interesting sections have been transcribed below.

On the small school mentality of being a star player at a small school…

CJ McCollum: “Playing at a small school gives you a unique opportunity to learn as ‘the man.’ You’re the go-to guy, you have to do everything for your team. You have to score, to have to facilitate, you have to rebound and all the responsibility goes on you, so that prepares you for a different amount of stress at the highest level. You got to a bigger school where you’re a role player or you’ve got five McDonald’s All-Americans, you’re sharing. You’re sharing the load and expectations are lower for you. You can average nine points a game and five rebounds and it’s like ‘Oh, he’s ready!’ because he has all this help. You got to a small school, you dominate and they say ‘Well, look at the competition around him. Look at the strength of schedule.’ But in reality, teams are running.

“I used to talk to our coach and ask him who we were going to schedule. Team’s wouldn’t schedule us. They’d say we’ll schedule… Purdue, for example. After I got cut from the USA team I told my coach I want to play Purdue because Matt Painter was their head coach.”

Adrian Wojnarowski: “Matt Painter had cut you from the team?”

McCollum: “Yeah, he was one of the coaches that cut me. I wanted to play them, Syracuse, all of them cause obviously (Syracuse coach Jim) Boeheim, they were all involved. Most of the schools said ‘We’ll play you guys after CJ graduates’ and it’s like, you’re at a small school and you’re like on the cusp of becoming ranked — my senior year we were receiving votes, we were on our way to being ranked and I get hurt. But we can’t schedule certain schools because they don’t want that. It looks bad if they lose and if they win they’re supposed to.”

On whether he has to work on his relationship with Damian Lillard…

CJ McCollum: “I think it comes really easy because of how we got to this point. We don’t feel entitled, everything was earned. Coming from a small school, him being from Oakland, me being from Canton, Ohio, we weren’t McDonald’s All-Americans, we weren’t five-stars, we didn’t play in any of those games. We had to earn everything and there’s always been question marks and there’s still question marks. So it’s just that sense of understanding that it takes a lot to get to this point and once you get there you’ve got to keep going. That’s how we approach it and we’re not afraid to challenge each other. We expect the most out of each other, we expect each other to come in prepared to work on your game every day, take advantage of off days, rest the body when you need to rest. And if there’s something I see that needs to be addressed, I address it and he does the same thing.”

On the pressure that comes with under-performing in terms of expectations…

CJ McCollum: “With great success comes great responsibility and as a guy who is in this position now, you accept it. You accept the blame, you accept the credit when it happens. When the team succeeds, it’s the team but a team fails, it’s Dame and CJ. It’s not the Blazers failing, it’s why aren’t Dame and CJ playing well together? Can they co-exist? All the question marks come. We’re built for that. I can withstand it, I can handle it and I understand that we have underachieved. I felt like we should have been a 50-win team, I felt like we had the pieces in place. Obviously things didn’t go as well. We had some unexpected injuries, Chief being hurt 19 games, ET being hurt, Dame missing games again this season. It’s been an unusual season, not to make excuses, but I felt like we were turning the corner. We traded for Nurk, we had a good March, one of the best teams in the NBA since the All-Star break, then Nurk goes out again. We go through these times where there’s trials and tribulations but I think that helps build character and we understand nothing is going to be given to us just because we beat a, what did they say, an undermanned Clipper team, a Clipper team we were supposed to beat essentially because of the injuries. And then we played the Warriors well but it was a Gentleman’s sweep, that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to have success the next year.

“So for us, we set high expectations, we feel like we still can meet some of those expectations, finishing over .500, making the playoffs. It’s just all about learning. It’s not going to be an easy, smooth process. I think the Warriors went through it early, being able to draft Steph and Klay — there’s a reason they were able to get both of those guys, they struggled. And once they got together, it took some time. They got Draymond, they got some players and they made that run, I think it was a few years ago, against Denver. I was actually going through the pre-draft process when they started having success, but they struggled first. So I expect us to struggle as well and go through those times where things aren’t going to be great, but it’s all about how you overcome it.”

On if he knew what to expect when the Trail Blazers traded for Jusuf Nurkić…

CJ McCollum: “I didn’t, he was an unknown. And it’s funny because my agent told me about him. He’s like ‘Nurk is going to save your season.’ I was like saying, ‘Come on man.’ He’s like ‘No CJ, I’ve been watching him’ — obviously make agency has Jokic so they were familiar with Jokic as well. I hadn’t really watched him. He came in the first day and he did some four-on-four stuff and I was watching him and I was like, he’s nimble, he’s able to run, get up and down the floor, he’s got skills, he’s got swag. I hit Sam (Goldfeder) back, I was like ‘You were right, this kid is the real deal.’ He’s only 22 years old. I was like ‘I like him, he’s mean and he’s not afraid.’ You didn’t see any sense of him being afraid. You see what he said after the Denver game, I was like he knows what he means and he means what he says.”

On investing after signing a lucrative four-year extension…

CJ McCollum: “It’s like, I’ve been making about an eight percent return since I started investing money. Why would I want to take more risk if I’m making eight percent of my money investing? Why would I want to give it to you, a stranger who I don’t know nothing about your project or your promise in this business with this apartment complex or this whatever. It’s like, I know nothing about this, I’m safe right here, I have this solid core group of people that I trust, I’m purchasing a house, so that’s going to take a lot of my money up if I pay 25 percent down on a multi-million dollar house, I’m paying for X, Y, Z, I want a new car, I want this and that. Why would I want to take extra risk where I have a safe investment right here to where I know what I’m getting. I can see it. I check my portfolio, I have my monthly meetings where I can see, at the very least, if it’s a bad month, I’m going to make four, three percent on my bonds. So why would I really need to worry about a random investment?”

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