VAVEL USA exclusive: Errick McCollum more than comfortable as the epitome of Overseas Elite

Errick McCollum is one of the most decorated professional basketball players overseas. He has been the scoring champion of multiple leagues, he won the EuroCup and EuroCup MVP award this past season, and he scored a Chinese Basketball League-record 82 points in a single game in 2015.

The 6-foot-2 guard, older brother of CJ McCollum, who plays for the Portland Trail Blazers, attended Goshen College for four years before beginning his professional career in Israel with Elitzur Netanya. He has now also played in Greece, China, and Turkey over his six-year career, becoming one of the premier players not playing the NBA.

And that's what makes McCollum, 28, perfect for Overseas Elite, The Basketball Tournament's defending champion. The team competed at TBT's Super 16 at Philadelphia University over the weekend, and Errick took the time to talk extensively with VAVEL USA about his overseas career, the chances he comes to the NBA, and his relationship with his brother.

McCollum (left) was a big part of the Overseas Elite team that won TBT's $1 million prize last year. | Photo: The Basketball Tournament
McCollum (left) was a big part of the Overseas Elite team that won TBT's $1 million prize last year. | Photo: The Basketball Tournament

The interview

Zach Drapkin (ZD): Is having your brother CJ in the NBA a motivator for you? What’s your relationship with him?

Errick McCollum (EM): My brother is my best friend. We have a great relationship. We lift each other up. We support each other. For me, I’m successful where I’m at and I’m happy. I have a big role and I’m awarded and compensated accordingly. We’re both having success in different places but at the highest levels. For him, it’s the NBA. For me, it’s the highest levels of Europe and China. I can’t complain. I just go with the flow and this is the best situation for me right now.

ZD: With all the accolades you’ve acquired despite going to a small school, do you think you should have gotten more looks from NBA teams?

EM: I’ve had some partially-guaranteed contracts, many invites to camp. This year, I had an invite to go to be a second or third point guard, but it was just a partial guarantee and the Hawks wanted me to come, actually last summer before I went to Galatasaray. But it was a partial guarantee and I had to work out, and you never know what could happen with that. I’m at the stage in my life where I’m 28, I like guaranteed deals, and I’m just trying to prepare the best for my future financially.

ZD: Other than that offer from the Hawks, did you get any other offers from NBA teams this summer?

EM: No. This summer, I already signed in China. For me, it’s a big pay cut if I go for a minimum, so I would need a team to come close to my salary.

ZD: Does winning the TBT prize change any of that?

EM: No, because I don’t know if you know, but China plays really well in Euroleague. It comes down to the role too. It’s not all about the money. I need a good situation and a good role. Right now, I’m the main player of a team, I have a featured role. And that’s what I work for. I don’t want a limited role, even if it’s in the NBA, the best league in the world. If I’m not playing as much, I’m not going to be satisfied.

"It comes down to happiness. You've got to be content with yourself."

ZD: How do you weigh the different types of roles you can get in the different leagues and what’s the mentality you approach those situations with?

EM: It comes down to happiness. You’ve got to be content with yourself. Europe is a very high level of basketball. Anywhere you go, there are so many good players there that could play in the NBA. You’re seeing it now, there might be 15-20 guys who are in the NBA from Europe now. They might be draft picks, they might be free-agent signings, but you see the talent. For me, it’s just situational and financial decision, so who knows what could happen in the future, but for right now, I’m happy in China.

ZD: What’s the basketball culture like in China?

EM: In China, they love the game. Every game is packed, it’s sold out. They have great arenas, great basketball facilities, the economy is great, so people are active in the basketball community. So it’s a big part of it. When you go to Europe, I think soccer is number one and then basketball, but in China, basketball is number one, and you feel it there.

ZD: I know there are many players on the teams that do speak English, but how is it communicating with those who don’t?

EM: It’s tough. Sometimes, I’m using Google Translate. I take full advantage of my translator So I have a translator and anytime I have issues when I’m going out to eat or anything, he’s there to help me along the way.

ZD: Can you talk about your 82-point game? Was that almost like your Kobe Bryant moment?

EM: It was special. I got in a rhythm. My teammates did a great job of getting me open and feeding me and believing in me. We had an injury to one of our secondary scorers so I had to step up and I provided a little bit more offensive firepower that night.

ZD: Going to a Division II school and then going undrafted, obviously CJ went to a small school but was Division I, do you feel like smaller schools have more to offer, more untapped potential than the basketball world usually thinks? Does that put a chip on your shoulder at all?

EM: I’m a fan of the smaller schools. They give you a chance to develop right away. You go there three, four years and you see guys developing strength, blooming. You see guys getting a chance to play early, where at a bigger school, you might have to sit one or two years and every year they recruit McDonald’s All-Americans over you. So I think small school was good for me and my brother. It allowed us to develop our games and get where we are today.

ZD: What are your thoughts on players from those bigger schools now going one-and-done? Do you think that’s changing the level of basketball professionally?

EM: You’re getting a lot of guys who aren’t ready. They’re very good athletes, they have great talent, but it’s mostly potential. So you’re going to see guys a bit watered down. They’re going to be good, it’s just going to take a couple years. But when you see that guys are in school for three to four years, it’s usually more of a finished product. You’ve got the Damian Lillards, obviously my brother, Kawhi Leonards. Those three, four years of school make a big difference in your body and your game.

ZD: What’s your take on the D-League? How have you weighed over your career playing in the D-League as opposed to overseas? Obviously, it’s a big pay cut, $20-35k salaries as opposed to millions.

EM: I just could never do the D-League. I make more in a week than the D-League makes all season. It’s not worth it for me. It’s a situation where it depends on some people. If you feel like you’re really close to the NBA or you feel like you’re young and you need that, then you can give it a shot. But for me, it’s just not the best situation. I think if guys had opportunities to play in China or high-level Europe, they would turn down the D-League.

ZD: Have you ever felt on the cusp of making the NBA and getting a guaranteed role?

EM: I’ve had several workouts. Every year, I get invited to multiple teams to Summer League, training camp invites by teams. You’re talking about millions of dollars and you’re talking about a partial guarantee and it just doesn’t make sense for where I’m at in my life.

"When you're younger, you have these goals and ambitions, and as you get older, you still have those, but you find happiness in doing your best."

ZD: What’s your take on the saying ‘If you’re good enough, they’ll find you’? Do you think that’s usually true?

EM: Yeah. When you’re younger, you have these goals, these ambitions, and as you get older, you still have those goals and ambitions but you find some type of happiness with doing the best you can do. Right now for me, that’s China. At the end of the day, it’s about having a good career and having financial stability while playing and beyond retirement.

ZD: You’ve now obviously competed in multiple TBTs and Summer Leagues. What’s the difference between the two and what benefits can you take away from each of them?

EM: Summer League is difficult. I played with the Nuggets. It’s difficult just because everyone is trying to make it, so you have some selfishness, you have guys not sharing the ball. But when you’re in TBT, everybody has a common goal, they’re trying to win the money. So you’re going to see the guys make the extra pass and play the correct way, better spacing, better all that. So it’s more team-oriented, I would say, whereas Summer League is wild, it’s sloppy, and there are guys sometimes getting outside themselves trying to prove something instead of just playing the game the right way.

McCollum takes a shot in the 2015 TBT Championship versus Team 23. | Photo: The Basketball Tournament
McCollum takes a shot in the 2015 TBT Championship versus Team 23. | Photo: The Basketball Tournament

ZD: At TBT, obviously your team, Overseas Elite, doesn’t seem to have a problem with this, but do you think that there are players trying to outshine their teams on the national television stage?

EM: I think that beyond this stage, guys probably won’t. In the earlier rounds, those teams are eliminated. If you see guys doing that, I don’t see the team having too much success. The smart teams are riding the hot hand. One night it could be you, one night it could be somebody else, and you have to be smart. Tonight, Kyle and DJ had it going, I only attempted five shots, and that’s okay. The goal is to move on, it’s to advance, and that’s we’re going to do.

ZD: What are the keys to winning a tournament like this?

EM: Defense. You have to defend at a high level, you have to make free throws at a high percentage, and you have to have low turnovers. I think that if you win those three categories, you’re going to win the game probably 90 percent of the time.

ZD: You had to face a very pro-Rams Nation, pro-VCU environment with the band and everything. Does that kind of feed into the Overseas Elite mentality?

EM: We’re used to it. This is nothing. In Europe, the environments are way more hostile. You have controlled fireworks in the stands, you have fans sometimes throwing stuff, and you have maybe fifteen thousand. It’s just a crazy environment. If you go to YouTube and you just look at some of the stuff, the chants, some places are very hostile. So I think that prepped us very well for this and at the end of the day, it’s just basketball and we went out there and played our game.

ZD: What do you guys need to do to repeat your championship run this year?

EM: Against Rams Nation, we shot terrible from the free-throw line, three-point percentage was low. From the field, we were low shooting as well. We played good defense, that’s what kept us in the game. We’ve got to defend the three-point line better and we need to have fewer spurts without scoring, and I think we’ll be okay.

ZD: Do you think you’ll repeat this year?

EM: I hope so. We have the talent, we have the roster, we won last year, so I think we should be considered the favorite. But I understand we don’t have a bunch of NBA guys or lottery picks and all that, so people won’t see us as a favorite.

"For us, it's just basketball. We're not worried about anybody."

ZD: Is it intimidating to go against those NBA guys?

EM: No. I play against top-level guys everywhere. My brother is a max player, so none of them can compare to him. So at the end of the day, everyone has played against high-level guys, whether it was in college or it’s overseas. For us, it’s just basketball. We’re not worried about anybody.

ZD: Do you get the chance to train with your brother at all during the offseason?

EM: Always, always. We’ve trained our whole lives together. Sometimes he comes out to Ohio, where I live, to train with me, and sometimes I go out to Portland. We get to spend a good amount of time and we get to hone each other’s games.

ZD: What would you say about the idea of being able to play alongside him for an NBA team?

EM: That would be special. That would be something that I would definitely consider, for sure, just because how many brother duos get to play together. It doesn’t happen very often. Portland is on an upper trend and they have a lot of talent.

ZD: They should definitely reach out to you.