From a sheer NBA draft perspective, it's hard to imagine there being a better time for Lehigh junior guard C.J. McCollum to leave school and enter his name in the professional ranks. McCollum just had his best year in an already stellar career -- he averaged 21.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.6 steals per game in 2012 -- a year he capped by running roughshod over No. 2 seed Duke's vaunted backcourt and an upset win for his No. 15-seeded Mountain Hawks. (Lest we forget, McCollum went for 30 points, six rebounds and six assists against Duke. He was so good.)
Besides, it's a notoriously weak draft for potential NBA guards, and McCollum's chances of getting drafted in the first round -- Chad Ford ranks him as the No. 7 shooting guard, but at 6-foot-3, McCollum might have as good a chance of proving himself as a point guard in a draft that lacks them -- would only be boosted accordingly.
And yet, McCollum has decided to return to school. He announced as much Monday morning via this column in the Sporting News, and his reasoning is both kind of cool and very sound:
My family and I believe another year in college will be more beneficial for me on and off court. If I were in a situation where I needed money, I would definitely consider taking my career to the next level. But both of my parents work hard to ensure my brother and I can live comfortably, which takes away any added pressure to pursue a professional career at this time. The fact that my brother plays professionally over in Israel doesn’t hurt, either.
I believe that finishing up my degree at Lehigh University is an essential and pivotal step in the right direction for my future career in Journalism and Sports Broadcasting. Growing up, I promised my mother I would complete my degree and although there is no time limit, I feel like the time is now.
McCollum also cites his teammates and coaches as a reason for his return, and given his unique importance to his program -- players like McCollum simply don't come along all that often at programs like Lehigh -- the selfless aspect of his decision is admirable, too.
But more than anything, McCollum's decision lends even more credence to the argument in re: Kentucky earlier this afternoon in this space. McCollum's financial situation is sound. His parents have made it possible for him to return to school without worrying about where the next new computer will come from, let alone the next meal. Other young athletes don't have the same chances, the same buffer zone. Other young athletes' internal NBA clocks -- I've got to get to the league, because I've got to make money, because I've got to get my mom/dad/family/guardians out of this as soon as possible -- begin from the moment they turn, like, 15. McCollum doesn't have that sort of pressure. Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger and North Carolina forward Harrison Barnes didn't, either. They could afford to wait a year, for various reasons.
In other words, there are varying reasons behind every draft decision. Even now, we're a little too quick to praise those who come back, a little too quick to criticize those who don't. See, say, Josh Selby. Until you walk a mile in a man's Nike-approved team sneakers, well ... you know the rest.
Anyway, the non-philosophical portion of this post goes as follows: With McCollum back, Lehigh is destined to be a force in the Patriot League yet again. This is good news not only for Mountain Hawks fans, but also those of us looking forward to seeing McCollum dominate his league again, not to mention those of us who like watching great mid-major guards topple the nation's marquee programs in March. If all goes well, this time next year, we'll be celebrating another McCollum-led upset, and (unless you're a Duke fan) there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.