All in the Family

by January 11, 2011

by Quinn Peterson / @QwinFNP

The Ray McCallum Jr story is a unique one, no doubt. One that you’ve surely heard before, even if it wasn’t in great detail, but just a thumbnail version: McCallum, a 2010 McDonald’s All-American, chose to attend Detroit Mercy, opting to play for his father, Ray McCallum Sr, neglecting offers from Arizona, Florida, UCLA and others in the process.

How he and his team are faring in his first season is what may now be more obscure.

It’s not that sons don’t opt to play for their fathers all of the time — because they do (Pat Knight, Bryce Drew, Steven Pearl, etc.) —Ray McCullum Jr and Sr but the rarely, if ever, is the progeny a consensus top-50 player in the nation.

Considered one of the top point guards in his class, McCallum’s name was mentioned in the same breath as Kyrie Irving, Brandon Knight, Josh Selby and Corey Joseph. A list of guys who have certainly all had their moments this year. Obviously, however, their bigger stages have provided more exposure.

McCallum, at UDM, a Horizon League school who’s last Tournament appearance came in 1999, has not had access to that same spotlight; that doesn’t mean he’s not doing his thing nonetheless, though.

On this particular day (January 8, 2011), Ray came through for his team in a major way, aviating across the lane (showing off those springs) after turning it over to make a crucial block, and later snatching a game-sealing rebound and putting it back to ensure the Titans a victory over the UIC Flames.

On the season, the freshman has started every game and is leading his team in points (15.8 per), assists (4.6), steals (1.7) and minutes (34.6). Indeed, having his father as coach has helped.

“I couldn’t ask for a better coach in the country,” said McCallum. “He knows my game better than anyone. He lets me freelance out there and play my game and help my team win.”

“It’s been great,” he reflected on the experience of playing for his pops thus far. “We’ve been watching film since I was a freshman in high school, watched every game. After every practice, we sit down, talk about practice, watch a lot of film. It’s easy, and since we’ve got that close father-son relationship it just makes it that much better.”

“For any freshman, I think the transition from high school basketball to college basketball is a major adjustment. In the beginning of the season I was struggling a little bit, but the last 10 games I’ve gotten real comfortable. I’ve been playing like I played in high school, and it’s been real easy, and I owe a lot of that to my dad.”

Surprisingly, this is Junior’s first time playing for his father. And while his other college options may have had more prestige, the challenge of resurrecting UDM basketball — a task initiated by McCallum Sr when he took over two seasons ago — seemed more enticing. The opportunity to be a key cog in building something from the ground up and ending a two-decade Tournament drought trumping latching on to another school’s already etched legacy.

“Never,” he quickly responded when asked had he ever played for his dad before. “Never played for him. In high school, he was kind of like my coach who wasn’t my coach. He just helped out.”

“Ever since a young age I said I wanted to play for him. When I got in high school I had big schools like Arizona, UCLA and Florida looking at me, I was taking visits to those schools and thought I might go to one of those, but at the end of the day I said I’ma stay home and play for my dad because he wants to help me get to the next level.

“There’s not a better situation to come into, than to try to change a program around. So that’s my goal. Come in try to turn a program around, get ‘em to the Tournament, sky’s the limit from there,” he continued.

The 6-1 PG is not strictly a scorer, nor is he exclusively a throwback, pass-first point guard, but rather, a combination of both. And given the way he can stroke it, there are times when he moves off the ball altogether, letting someone else run the show, while he slides over to the 2-spot.

“I’m a point guard,” stated McCallum. I’m all about running my team and trying to get a win, but sometimes in clutch [situations] I gotta look to score and find my shot, so when another point guard like Donovan [Foster] can get me the ball it helps.”

“Whatever’s best for my team at the time” is all that really matters to him.

“Like today, we really needed to get the ball inside so my dad told look inside. Then towards the end of the game, he told me, you know, ‘We need you to score and help bring us back.’ So I was looking more to score. I can be driving and kicking it or I can be driving and scoring. It just helps my team if I’m scoring and I’m making plays.”

Regardless of bloodlines, point guards — at least the good ones — are expected to be extensions of the coach on the court. This fact is of course made easier in this case, as McCallum Jr and Sr both operate with the same tranquil demeanor.

“He’s always telling me, ‘Just act like you’ve been there before.’ So I just try go out on the court and be real calm, you know, play my game.”

“A lot of times [during the game] I go talk to him, just like a point guard, and try to get the next play or whatever he wants to run next. Him being my father, you know, we talk about it at home all the time, so when I go over and talk to him during the game it just makes it that much easier.”

“On the court, he’s my coach; off the court, he’s my dad,” he continued. “It’s pretty easy, though. We’re really into basketball, it’s what we’re talking about all the time, we’re always talking about things to help our team get better.”

A humble one yes, let us not make the mistake of forgetting about McCallum Jr, even as we are swept away by some of his peers.

“I got a lot of confidence in my game, so every time I step on the court, I feel like really no one can stop me and I can get done what I need to get done on the court.”

With the skills he already has, and his father to assist in their growth and usage, getting it done shouldn’t be a problem.