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Portland’s CJ McCollum is a silent assassin on the court and a blooming journalist off of it

The Trail Blazers guard is changing the game for high school journalists with his organization CJ’s Press Pass

The day after Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum sank the game-winning floater with 3.9 seconds left against the Dallas Mavericks, he met with 20 students from Madison High School’s journalism club. For the second year, he’s encouraging Portland-area students to pursue a career in journalism through his student mentoring program, CJ’s Press Pass.

McCollum is a silent assassin on the court, and off the court he’s a blooming journalist, radio personality and philanthropist. As he continues his effort to invest in the local community, he will host Journalism Night on Feb. 13 during the Blazers’ home game against the Atlanta Hawks, where the students will receive media credentials and attend a postgame news conference through CJ’s Press Pass.

The program provides aspiring journalists the opportunity to attend events with McCollum, receive personalized mentorship from members of the media and to have their work published. This year, CJ’s Press Pass is partnering with Prep2Prep, a Bay Area organization that gives students the opportunity to cover local high school sporting events and receive mentorship.

“I think the sky’s the limit,” McCollum said. “I think it’s growing every year. More kids and more people are becoming interested in it. I think it’s something that is beneficial to the kids and it gives them an outlet. It gives them a chance to learn exactly what the journalism world entails. Not just behind the camera, but behind the scenes and learn how games are ran, how TV shows are ran, how everything is put together. Looking forward to expanding that as well.”

The Blazers star earned a degree in journalism from Lehigh University in 2013. He started off in the business school at Lehigh. About two weeks into it, he realized it wasn’t for him.

“I was looking to make a change and based on some of the classes I was taking, I enjoyed writing the papers,” McCollum said. “And I enjoyed talking. So I switched over to the journalism school and I learned more about journalism and how I could use it after basketball.”

He was an assistant editor for the school newspaper for three years and now that he’s in NBA, he hosts two radio shows: Playlist, a two-hour show on iHeartRadio that airs on Friday nights from 10 p.m. to midnight, and a weekly sports talk morning show on 620 Rip City Radio.

For McCollum, starting CJ’s Press Pass was a no-brainer.

“Basically, I sat down and talked to my agency about just different ways I could help the community and help other students who are in a position where they want to become journalists or sports broadcasters,” McCollum said. “We’re looking forward to some of the changes and advancements we’ve made with it. Just trying to give them as many opportunities as possible to learn more about the career and to give them real-life, real-time journalism experience from mentors.”

The students will produce a column, video or podcast. Local journalists will be on hand for an exclusive Q&A session. The assignments will be submitted to McCollum and the student with the best piece will be recognized on March 24, when the students visit the iHeartRadio station to watch McCollum tape one of his shows.

As a radio personality, McCollum said, he enjoys talking sports and music.

“I like conversing about both of them. I kind of combined them. We just got hot topics around the league, around other sports. Obviously, the presidential nomination is there and what’s going on with President Trump is very interesting — a good topic to discuss. And then music is a way of expression. It’s kind of a way of life for not only athletes, but for all people. It’s always fun to have different playlists. Put those together and always have a old-school cut of the week, where I play some Marvin Gaye or Gap Band or Temptations or some Isley Brothers. Whatever I’m in the mood for.”

McCollum said the best piece of advice he’s ever received is “to understand that with success comes greater responsibilities, so spend your time wisely. And understand where you came from and what you come from. So that’s what I always try to do. Understanding that, it comes with a lot.”

The best advice he gives to student journalists in his program is not to be afraid to go against the norm.

“Don’t be afraid to be unpopular. I told them a lot of cool kids I grew up with aren’t cool anymore,” he said. “So don’t be afraid to go right when everybody’s going left. And that it’s OK to do your homework and be interested in school and to have goals and priorities outside of sports.”

McCollum also partnered with the Boys & Girls Club to launch the first CJ McCollum Dream Center.

CJ at the opening of the CJ McCollum Dream Center inside the Blazers Boys & Girls Club on November 7, 2016.

C.J. McCollum at the opening of the CJ McCollum Dream Center inside the Blazers Boys & Girls Club on Nov. 7, 2016.

Bruce Ely / Trail Blazers

“It’s a space I renovated with the Boys & Girls Club along with many of my current partners. I renovated the entire room, the floors, furniture, painted the walls, put pictures on the walls. And we provided over 200 culturally relevant books,” he said. “Provided computers, headphones, computer games, databases and code for the computers, and we’re bringing in guest speakers periodically throughout the year to educate the kids on different careers that are available to them. Basically, we just created a safe space for the children to be innovative and continue to want to grow, and learn and prosper.”

McCollum said it’s the first Dream Center of many, as he aspires to open two more.

“I want to have my second one in the works in March or April or May sometime,” he said. “We’ll end up launching that. So I’m looking forward to that, to continue to go to CJ McCollum Dream Center throughout Oregon and the rest of the United States.”

Kelley Evans is a general editor at The Undefeated. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.