Road to Recovery: C.J. McCollum | Absolutely Incredible Athletes

Over the course of the last year, the only thing C.J. McCollum has played more than basketball isn’t even a game, unless you count mind games.

C.J. McCollum isn’t letting injury stop his game

OOver the course of the last year, the only thing C.J. McCollum has played more than basketball isn’t even a game, unless you count mind games.

What McCollum has done more is work out and rehabilitate his left foot.

HIGH SCHOOL DAYS C.J. McCollum (far right) playing for GlenOak High School in a game against Hoover in 2008. Photo by Scott Heckel

The GlenOak High School graduate was an NBA lottery draft pick, selected 10th overall in the first round by the Portland Trail Blazers. It is a draft position that comes with respect and patience from the team because it’s making a substantial investment in McCollum.

It was an impressive draft for McCollum because he missed the last half of his senior season at Lehigh University when he first broke the fifth metatarsal in his left foot. The Patriot League’s all-time leading scorer had surgery and worked himself into shape to impress NBA teams so much that his draft stock actually improved after the injury.

While he was in training camp with Portland, however, the same thing happened to the same hard-working kid from Canton. He stepped on another player’s foot during practice and broke the same bone again. The fifth metatarsal is the longer bone that connects the smallest toe to the foot. This time, though, McCollum didn’t have surgery.

McCollum met with three doctors, and the Carolina Panthers’ team physician is the one who recommended an unconventional approach to fixing McCollum’s foot. It was an ultrasound, shockwave therapy that McCollum, well versed on foot surgeries, didn’t know existed.

“Having gone through surgery before, I wanted to stay away from it if I could,” McCollum said. “A second surgery would mean a longer recovery time. I did the research on the ultrasound therapy and compared it to the success rate with surgical recovery.

“It wasn’t easy the first time to go under anesthesia.”

Tony Gutierrez, Associated Press
Tony Gutierrez, Associated Press
Two weeks after the re-injury, McCollum was shooting again.

“Basketball is a lot easier than rehab,” said McCollum, during a brief break between practices and team meetings on a road trip to play the Los Angeles Clippers. “The best thing about it is I’ve been through it before. I knew what to do, what to expect.”

While his teammates were enjoying the big stage of the NBA, McCollum was working. He had a cardio session for an hour a day. Then he would lift weights for an hour and go through a full-body maintenance program after that.

“It was about 3 1/2 hours a day of the physical stuff,” McCollum said. “That doesn’t include the ice baths, or the ultrasound treatments and the dieting stuff I was working on.

“There’s a lot of stuff that goes into getting in shape and rehabbing an injury that is behind-the-scene stuff.”

Portland had its team of trainers test McCollum when he first reported to training camp. His body fat, muscle content, diet and just about anything they could collect data on they did, were established for McCollum’s baseline.

He hired a personal chef when he first arrived. After his re-injury, though, his mother came out West to make sure he was eating right. McCollum learned the importance of diet at Lehigh, but Portland’s staff nutritionist went grocery shopping with him so he knew what to buy.

Andy Clayton-King, Associated Press
Andy Clayton-King, Associated Press
“It’s about making sure we get the right foods,” McCollum said. “I still eat some of the things I used to eat, I just eat a healthier version of those.”

Like collard greens, a favorite of McCollum’s.

“Now I just eat organic collard greens,” he said.

From November through the end of December, McCollum was just working on getting himself back on the court.

On Jan. 1, Portland assigned him to the NBA Development League. He played one game in Idaho before being brought back up with the NBA team.

Finally, on Jan. 8 against Orlando, McCollum made his NBA debut.

“It was a relief to finally get out there and play,” McCollum said. “Playing in the summer league (for NBA rookies) was fun, but being hurt my senior year was a tough adjustment. If I’m being honest, though, I enjoyed the process of developing and overcoming these obstacles.”

While fans see the ESPN highlights, being a well-paid NBA player isn’t easy. McCollum will make close to $2.5 million this season with Portland. That does not include endorsements or his weekly radio show on Sirius.

“This is a job,” McCollum said. “People think you spend a couple hours a day playing a game or at practice. You’re at this six, seven hours most days, and then you’re gone with the travel a lot. We play a lot of games in a short amount of time. You have to prepare mentally and physically for the long haul.”


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