Some players are simply naturally born at the top. They're tremendously talented from the day they start playing, nationally recruited, and go on to have long, successful Hall of Fame careers. But those guys are a lot less fun than the redemption stories, and professional sports are full of them.
Leonard and McCollum both came out of high school in 2009. According to 247Sports, Leonard was the 57th best prospect in that year's high school class. McCollum barely registered in the recruiting space at all, ranked as the 452nd best prospect of 2009. Both ended up playing at D-I schools for multiple seasons, Leonard at San Diego State and McCollum at Lehigh.
Leonard took San Diego State to the Sweet 16 in 2011 before entering the NBA Draft, where the Indiana Pacers took him with the 15th pick, immediately trading him to the San Antonio Spurs.
The following season, McCollum led 15-seed Lehigh to a massive upset over Duke in the NCAA Tournament. He returned for his senior year before becoming the first-ever draft pick out of Lehigh. The Portland Trailblazers selected him with the 10th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.
Since then, both have had incredibly productive careers. Leonard spent seven seasons in San Antonio, and outside of a messy final year, he was a huge part of the Spurs' two NBA Finals runs and additional playoff success.
He just won his second NBA title, bringing the Toronto Raptors its first championship in franchise history. Leonard only spent one season in Toronto, but it was a memorable one. On top of the championship, he made his third All-Star Team and won his second NBA Finals MVP. He was also named to the All-NBA Second Team and NBA All-Defensive Second Team.
Meanwhile, McCollum won the NBA's Most Improved Player award in 2016 and helped lead the Trail Blazers to the Western Conference Finals last season. He's averaged at least 20.8 points per game the past four years.
Their rewards? They each signed nine-figure deals this offseason. Leonard inked a three-year, $103 million contract, and McCollum signed a three-year, $100 million.
Leonard and McCollum's success is a great reminder that if you put in the work, good things will come their way. Now let's see how they continue their journey this upcoming season.