Errick McCollum II holds the single season and career scoring records in basketball at Goshen College. In the spring of his senior year in 2010, as a 6’1” guard, he executed a soaring dunk that became an ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 play.
But unlike the majority of Goshen College students, McCollum never traveled abroad en route to earning his undergraduate degree. His credentials as a global citizen came later, courtesy of his ability to speak with the basketball in any language.
This year, McCollum, who is 25, is playing for Apollon Patra, a team in the Greek Basketball League.The league is ranked as one of the top three leagues in Europe. McCollum had intended to play professional ball in Turkey this year, but after a preseason tournament with the Best Balikesir Basketball Club, he received an offer to play in Greece.
Last season he played professionally in Israel, where he topped the league in scoring, averaging 24.3 points per game and scoring a high of 40 points in one game.
McCollum said that his parents predicted that they would have two professional athletes in their family. Friends used to laugh at the claim, he said, but they no longer do.
McCollum’s younger brother, C.J., who plays for Lehigh University, was a two-time Patriot League player of the year and the nation’s fifth-leading scorer as a junior last season. C.J. McCollum led Lehigh, a No. 15 seed in the N.C.A.A. tournament, in knocking off Duke, the No. 2 seed, last March.
“My parents always knew we had the ability and talent, and they put us in the position to gain every opportunity we could get,” Errick McCollum said.
McCollum excelled in high school ball in Canton, Ohio, but his size turned away many Division I schools. Goshen College didn’t hesitate, and McCollum took a road less traveled in his journey to the pros.
At Goshen College, he excelled, as a senior becoming the first Maple Leaf to be named conference player of the year. He averaged 25.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3 assists per contest and was named a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) First Team All American.
Even so, after graduating, McCollum, who earned a business degree, was uncertain about his future. He turned down several job offers and signed with an agent. “My agent said he saw the Top 10 play … [but] it takes a lot of things to go your way,” he said.
After signing his first professional contract, McCollum packed up his bags and flew to Israel—his first trip abroad.
In two years of professional play McCollum has now visited 10 countries and feels comfortable in transitioning to Greece this year.
“I don’t think you can go overseas and do this if you can’t adjust and meet new people,” said McCollum. He attributed his easy adjustment in Israel to the experience he had in moving from his home in the inner-city in Canton to “little Goshen College.”
In college the basketball team did everything together, he said, as a tight-knit family. In the professional league, some of the players are 10 years older, with families of their own to go home to after the game.
“It was a big adjustment from Goshen College,” said McCollum, “where everybody is friendly and all the doors are unlocked. It’s a different atmosphere.”
To get ready for playing in Greece, McCollum worked out all summer at home in Ohio, including playing with Lebron James in the Akron pro-amateur summer league. Their team took the championship for the second consecutive year.
The McCollum brothers would spend two hours in the morning working on ball handling and shooting. These practices included: up to 500 3-point shots, 200 mid-range shots, 100 free throws and 100 finishes. “We’re probably talking a minimum of 700 to 800 shots per day,” he said. “And that would be the morning.”
McCollum described the preseason workouts in Turkey, en route to Greece. A typical day consists of an intense running workout in the morning, lifting in the afternoon and then practice. The practices are not overly strenuous, he said, but “you’re exhausted from the conditioning and shooting … and it’s hot.”
Once the regular season begins, the team rarely practices more than once per day. Even on those rare days the practice is less intensive, usually consisting of shooting or lifting in the morning and an afternoon practice.
“After a month of that (preseason) terribleness everything gets calm,” he said. The team will play about 60 games, with a few days of rest between.
McCollum notes that with such an intense game schedule, “you can’t really practice three hours a day like in college or your body will wear down.” A regular season team practice is normally two hours long, with shooting, stretching, and one-on-one and play drills.
According to McCollum, though, the game days are the easiest. “Games are only 40 minutes, nothing like the double two-hour practices I do in the summer. I’m fresh, all I did was shooting.”
McCollum said this year offers stronger competition than he faced in Israel. “There are a lot of teams in Europe with very lucrative pay and who play at an extremely high level, but at the end of the day my ideal place to play is in the NBA,” he said.
McCollum sets short-term goals en route to securing a long-term position in the NBA. “I set percentage goals,” he said. “I want to be as efficient as possible.”
He aims to shoot more than 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from the 3-point line and 90 percent from the foul line. McCollum said that he’s met both the field goal and 3-point goals but is still working on the foul line percentage.
He added that the No. 1 goal remains winning games. “That’s the first thing coaches and other teams look at for the following season recruitment,” he said.
McCollum wants to keep his options open in business. He keeps his resume updated and accepted a part-time job in business over the summer.
“It’s something that will benefit me if I choose to coach or get my master’s degree,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s going to look good on my resume. I don’t want to have a blank slate after playing 10 years of basketball.”
This will be his third year of professional basketball.
“I was one of those guys who knew what I wanted, and I knew what it took for me to get it, and I was going to do everything to put myself in that position,” said McCollum. “I always said, ‘If I can make more money playing basketball than I can working, I’m going to do it.’ ”
He credited his brother and parents as central to his success. “You know it sounds corny,” he said, “but when you got people who you believe in you, that you trust, who are very honest people, you’re going to think you can do it. Even if it sounds crazy, you can do it.”
McCollum also credits his experience at Goshen College for his success. “People still ask me what my favorite college team is,” he said, “and I tell them, ‘Lehigh University and Goshen College.’ ”
He recalled that he had really lusted after Division 1 schools in high school. “I made the best of my situation and that was one of the best things that ever happened to me: going to Goshen College,” he said.
During the off season in the States, he said his first stop is always his home in Canton to visit his parents and younger brother. His second stop is at Goshen College.
McCollum said that at the end of his rookie season in Israel, he had respectable statistics but teams weren’t calling him with offers as he had hoped. The offer he would take came days before the start of the season.
McCollum landed in Israel, practiced twice with his new team and scored 30 points in the first game. “That’s when I knew,” he said. “That’s when I knew I was ready.”