NCAA BK

Coach: McCollum may not return

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The best-case scenario for injured Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum is for the preseason All-American to return in two-plus months, just in time for the Patriot League tournament.

But his potentially lucrative future in the NBA may take precedence over a speedy recovery.

There's more to life, after all, then helping the Mountain Hawks in the conference tourney. Several factors need to be considered.

Either way, Lehigh coach Brett Reed is preparing for life without the senior who helped the Mountain Hawks stun powerhouse Duke in the NCAA tournament last season. Reed is trying to be realistic, and said there was a distinct possibility McCollum may have played his last game at Lehigh.

''We have to progress,'' he said, ''and move on.''

McCollum suffered a broken left foot last week in a game against Virginia Commonwealth. He underwent what the school deemed ''successful surgery'' on Tuesday.

The estimated recovery time is eight to 10 weeks, but the school warned that would depend on the healing process. The timeline could make him available in early March.

McCollum, at the time of his injury, was leading the country in scoring (25.7 points). Lehigh (10-4) hosts Holy Cross to open Patriot League play on Saturday.

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''It's going to be a challenge to replace him. Maybe 'replace' isn't the right word,'' said McCollum's roommate and fellow team captain, Gabe Knutson. ''We have a lot of guys who are willing and able to step up.''

McCollum is considered a potential first-round pick in the NBA draft, and has averaged 21.3 points over his career at Lehigh. On March 16 of last year, McCollum scored 30 points as Lehigh, a No. 15 seed, defeated the Blue Devils, 75-70.

''The magnitude of his future, we understand that,'' Reed said. ''We approach this thing to where he's fully healed, to reduce all chance of future injury, to ensure longevity of his career.''

McCollum had been a mainstay in the Lehigh lineup until this year. He ended a streak of 109 straight games last month when he missed a contest because of an ankle injury. This absence will be much longer, though Lehigh does have other veterans to lean on.

Knutson (15.7 points) and fellow senior Holden Greiner (11.7 points, 6.6 rebounds) give Reed a savvy duo in the frontcourt, while junior Mackey McKnight (11.3 points, 5.1 assists) gives the Mountain Hawks another backcourt scoring option.

''We've got to shore up the defense and make sure we rebound as a team,'' Knutson said. ''But we'd be saying that with or without C.J.''

Reed called adjusting to the loss of McCollum one of the most difficult midseason challenges he's had to face in his six years coaching Lehigh. He said the already established emphasis on sharing the basketball will help, though he must tweak the system that primarily played through McCollum ''without totally changing who we are.''

''It would be impossible and improbable to replace C.J.,'' Reed said. ''It will require the collective effort of everybody ... to try to cover'' the tasks McCollum performed.

Winning the Patriot League just got tougher.

Tagged: Lehigh, Georgia Southern, C.J. McCollum, Gabe Knutson, C.J. Reed

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