Big expectations for Lehigh University’s men’s basketball team were running high this year on the South Bethlehem campus. The Mountain Hawks had 4 returning starters from last year’s team (record of 27-8) which upset perennial power Duke 75-70 in the opening round of the 2012 NCAA Championship Tournament.
Their two-time Patriot League Player of the Year, C.J. McCollum had decided to return for his senior season after contemplating leaving school for a go in the 2012 NBA draft. The high scoring 6’ 3” guard, a Journalism Major from Canton, Ohio, was named to College Basketball’s 2012-13 Pre-Season All-American 1st Team. He has been projected to be a first round pick in this year’s NBA draft.
Lehigh was off to a good start this season with a 9-3 record with losses only to Baylor, Pitt (in the Pre-Season NIT) and a 1 point upset to rising Division I foe, Bryant University.
The Mountain Hawks headed to Richmond, VA, this past Saturday for a matchup with Virginia Commonwealth University before a sell-out crowd at the Siegel Center and a national television audience (NBC Sports Network). 31 NBA scouts were in attendance to see how McCollum, the nation’s leading scorer at 25.7 points per game would play against the Rams and their style of play aptly called “Havoc”.
McCollum got off to a slow start, going 0 for 5 from the field but was a perfect 4 for 4 from the free throw line. With Lehigh trailing, C.J. dribbled the ball up the court and made a pass to his right. He came down awkwardly with approximately 5:37 remaining in the first half, limping to his bench. He left with VCU holding a 25-17 lead.
There was silence in our living room which was followed by a few curse words. We hoped for the best but feared the worst. C.J. hobbled to the locker room at halftime and did not return to play in the game.
He did return to the sidelines late in the 2nd half on crutches with is ankle and foot heavily wrapped. Sitting on the bench with tears running down his face, the TV camera zoomed in on him and it looked like he mouthed the words, “I broke my foot” to a teammate.
Lehigh played a tough game at VCU, but would go on to lose 59-55.
On Sunday, it was confirmed by an X-ray that McCollum had a fracture of his fifth metatarsal in his left foot. It is estimated that he will be out 8-10 weeks. The Patriot League Tournament begins on March 6, so it is possible he could return, but being realistic, his career is probably over.
McCollum missed his first career game, after appearing in 109 straight, on December 20 at North Texas with an ankle injury, unrelated to this foot injury. 58 NBA scouts showed up for that game and were bitterly disappointed by McCollum’s absence. The Mountain Hawks did beat the Mean Green 90-75.
Lehigh, still a good team even without McCollum will have a tough road if they are to repeat as Patriot League Champs and go to “The Big Dance” again. Bucknell has suddenly become the favorite to win the league crown.
C.J., a wonderful 21-year-old has provided Lehigh fans with some spectacular moments over the past 4 years. He is the all-time leading scorer in Patriot League history with 2,361 points, the 64th leading scorer in Division I history and is second in school history only behind Daren Queenan’s 2703 points (1984-88). Currently, at 23.9 points per game, he is second in the nation in scoring.
I wish Mr. McCollum well, a speedy recovery and continued success in the NBA. Thanks C.J.!