PORTLAND, ORE. — While many athletes figure they'll pursue media careers after their playing days are over, Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum sees no reason why he can't have it all now.
McCollum is a media mogul in the making, with a radio show along with a series of articles to his name. He's also mentoring aspiring young journalists through a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the NBA.
Portland's second-leading scorer rattles off the names of sports writers and broadcasters he admires as adeptly as he lists the players he looks up to, including Zach Lowe and Bill Simmons. He looks at Michael Strahan and thinks, "Why not me?"
"I envision myself entering in a similar world where I can maybe do a talk show and something of that nature and still be able to focus on basketball as well," he said.
McCollum hosted a group of Madison High School students at Sunday night's game between the Timberwolves and the Blazers. The students got a tour of the Blazers' broadcast studios, spoke to journalists who cover the team and watched Portland's 96-93 win before a postgame "press conference" with McCollum.
All the kids will have to produce a piece — a written story, audio or video — about their experience. The student with the best work will get a chance to co-host McCollum's radio show, "The Playlist."
"I think it's a good opportunity to provide a platform for journalists, future journalists, to learn whether they want to do it or not, give them some real-life experience and just try to educate them about what it's like to be a journalist, cover a game, and give them a fun assignment and take it from there," he said.
McCollum actually has the skills. Initially a business management major at Lehigh University, he switched to journalism and became an assistant editor for the student newspaper, The Brown and White. He also worked for the student TV station and wrote recaps for the athletic department's website.
A two-time Patriot League player of the year, McCollum wrote an article for The Sporting News about his decision to return to school for his senior season. He's also interviewed NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and is a contributing editor at The Players' Tribune, an athlete-driven site founded by Derek Jeter.
He has his own radio show where he discusses everything from music to movies, and yes, basketball, on Portland's JAM'N 107.5 FM. He also has a regular gig on the Blazers' flagship 620 Rip City Radio.
As the 10th overall pick for the Blazers in the 2013 draft, McCollum bided his time on the bench for his first two pro seasons while the Blazers had a starting lineup that featured LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez.
But a mass exodus last summer left Lillard as the only returning starter, and McCollum got his chance in the Blazers' backcourt.
With one of the youngest rosters in the league (24.6 years), the Blazers were not expected to do much this season as the team rebuilds. But Portland has suddenly gotten hot, with wins in four straight games and eight of the last 10 to move into the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings.
McCollum is averaging 20.7 points a game, ranking him second on the team behind Lillard. He's also averaging 4.3 assists and 3.5 rebounds a game, career highs.
Even Kobe Bryant has high praise, saying recently that McCollum has improved at an "extremely rapid" pace: "This seems like a breakout year for him."
McCollum had 21 points (matching Lillard for the team high) on Sunday night, joking that he was grateful for that when he faced the students' questions afterward. The session veered from the normal postgame fodder, delving into what McCollum had for breakfast, the brand of soap he uses and his plans for a mani-pedi on his day off.
"I try to shoot the ball the same way every time, regardless if I make or miss," he told them. "I just trust the work I've put in over my career. Sometimes it doesn't feel like it's going in and it does, and sometimes you feel like it's money and you miss it."
Aspiring writer Kaylee Lovato, 17, was impressed.
"He's pretty inspiring and the fact that he's so excited for us to be writing these stories makes me more excited to ask questions and for him to read them," she said.