- Yogi Berra
BETHLEHEM, Pa. - C.J. McCollum was not walking through the Stabler Arena door Saturday afternoon for Lehigh's Saturday afternoon Patriot League opener against Holy Cross.
Well, yea, he did walk through the door. But he was on crutches, of course. If you lost contact with the college basketball sect over the last week or so, McCollum - one of our biggest heroes - will miss the rest of the regular season with a broken foot
, only to make a triumphant return in the Patriot League Tournament and lead Lehigh to the Sweet 16.
Or maybe that was just my dream.
And technically hobbling on one leg is not walking, so leave my damn cliché alone, will you? Thanks.
The truth is, short of something life threatening, which would obviously take precedence, McCollum's injury is pretty debilitating. As a senior who could have been a fairly high pick in the NBA Draft, and came back to a Mid-majority school for his senior year
, probably the first unspoken non-utterance was, "I hope he doesn't get hurt. Knock on hardwood."
But McCollum was all smiles as he made his way behind the bench. A show? Not necessarily. Things are a little different at Lehigh, after all. After all, the head coach is not just Brett Reed, but Dr. Brett Reed, the doctorate coming not in physical therapy, but instructional technology, meaning finding different methods to convey information to students, or in this case, student-athletes.
A little deep for you? Well, this is Lehigh, these kids are pretty bright for the most part. McCollum won't have a direct replacement, obviously, but his place in the lineup will be taken by junior B.J. Bailey, who just happens to be one of McCollum's best friends on the squad.
You think McCollum's had it rough the last couple of weeks. Bailey lost his mother in his freshman year of high school, didn't know his troubled father well growing up, and - after transferring from Boston University to Lehigh after his freshman year - came so close to drowning (only the heroics of some good samaritans saved he and his friend
) that he quit basketball for an entire year, too shaken by the incident and its deeper meaning on life. He had some big minutes down the stretch for Lehigh last season, and looked to be finally blossoming.
However, to start this season, a concussion, his second in three years, kept him out for the first few games. But he still has enough raw skill that Reed put him right into the starting lineup when McCollum went down. The faith in each other is mutual. In the Lehigh media guide, Bailey says of Dr. Brett, ""
Dr. Reed has certainly been one of the most influential individuals in my life the past few years. I truly appreciate Dr. Reed's support and active role in my transition of becoming a positive, loving man."
Just like Bobby Knight's players I'm sure.
(Although you could see Bill Walton or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar saying that about John Wooden, couldn't you?)
Anyway, I must admit I was expecting a little more out of Stabler Arena. And not just because there was a huge bridal show next door at Rauch Field House that made traffic slightly difficult. It opened in 1979, and although it has some improvements, it still has that 1980s, not-so-intimate feel to it. I'm sure if it was full, I'd have a different impression. I don't know who I am to complain, I was paying $5 to sit in the fourth row at center court to watch one of the best mid-major teams in the country, so I guess I should shut up.
Holy Cross seemed to pose some threat to the McCollum-less Mountain Hawks. The Crusaders had a solid non-conference campaign as well as some Patriot League veterans, including diminutive point guard Justin Burrell in the third year at the helm for Milan Brown (formerly at Mount St. Mary's).
And early, the Crusaders seemed to be preying on the nerves of the defending Patriot League champions. Burrell had a couple of early buckets and Holy Cross lead 17-16 midway through the first half. Sadly, no Holy Cross players taunted Dr. Brett with, "Where's your instructional technology now, Doctor?" And we shouldn't encourage teasing, children, so let's move on.
Bailey was fairly invisible in the game's first six minutes, not looking at that comfortable with where to be. His second stint began as Lehigh started to get a hold of itself, it had scored a couple of baskets in a row when the ball rotated to Bailey in the right corner. He drilled a #superhoop, and on the way back down the floor, the smile from ear to ear was picked up by his teammates, who cheered him on. Corey Schaefer added a #superhoop
of his own off the bench and by the half, Holy Cross was the one who looked flustered as Lehigh had a 34-23 lead.
It would only get worse in the second half. In addition to the usual suspects - Mackey McKnight, Holden Greiner, and Gabe Knutson - Dr. Brett got a huge outing from freshman Justin Goldsborough, who couldn't be stopped in the paint, finishing with six points and 10 rebounds in just 21 minutes. Like with Bailey, the veterans were quick to pick him up when he did well.
Somewhat surprisingly, Holy Cross offered absolutely no resistance in the second half, as Lehigh cruised to a 79-47 victory.
I'm not so completely naïve as to believe Dr. Brett has figured out the answers to replacing McCollum simply through mental telepathy. Lehigh leads the nation in three-point shooting and didn't hurt itself by shooting 10-for-21 here. And things will get tougher, especially with Bucknell still on the schedule twice in the league.
But I'm also not ready to dismiss his ability, either. I couldn't hang around in the postgame because making it to Bucknell-Army on time dictated it, but I did listen to the Lehigh postgame on the way back to the highway.
(You can see why Lehigh went to Mountain Hawks when they chose to change their nickname from Engineers, by the way. There are some windy roads that lead to its mountain campus.)
Seniors Greiner and Knutson were on, and I would swear that Greiner came close to breaking down a little when he was asked about McCollum and the bond the seniors had. "We're like brothers," he said. "We've been through so much. And we're not done."
I told you things were a little different at Lehigh. And judging by what Dr. Brett and his disciples have been able to accomplish in the last couple of seasons, there might be something to be said for being a little different.