The recruitment of Detroit’s Ray McCallum Jr. was, at times, awkward.
Consider the scenario for the former McDonald’s All-American: As he sat opposite premier college coaches such as Sean Miller, Tom Izzo and Tubby Smith, his mother sat on his left and his father -- Detroit head coach Ray McCallum Sr., who also coveted his son’s services -- sat to his right.
Michigan’s Gatorade prep player of the year in 2010 admitted that those in-house visits were uncomfortable at times, even though his father never stepped outside of his parental role.
“One of those coaches was right across our kitchen counter table looking at me saying how they want me to come to their school and my dad, sitting on my right, I know in his head, he’s saying the same thing, wanting me to come to his school,” McCallum told ESPN.com. “But he was just a parent the whole time and really just let me make my own decision.”
McCallum said he thoroughly weighed his collegiate options but chose his father’s program over offers from UCLA, Florida, Arizona, Minnesota, Kansas and Oklahoma because it was the best fit for him.
The standout sophomore said his dad has pushed him to become a better leader.
Two weeks ago, Detroit attracted its largest home crowd of the year (5,377 fans) when it re-named its home floor "Dick Vitale Court" in honor of the ESPN personality and former coach during a ceremony that preceded its matchup against St. John’s. McCallum said he felt the pressure to perform for Titans fans and the city of Detroit.
Seeking more from his young star in that game, Senior pulled Junior during a tight stretch. The coach’s message was simple. He urged McCallum to “take over” once he re-entered the game.
McCallum scored on his first opportunity. He went 7-for-12 and recorded 21 points in the 69-63 victory Dec. 5.
“I want to show him that I’m getting better with what we’re doing. I always want to make him proud,” McCallum said.
His game alone (14.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.3 steals per game) exemplifies the effort his father expects from his team each night. But sometimes, the 6-foot-1 point guard has to communicate those expectations. And that’s the part of his responsibilities that’s a struggle for him.
McCallum said he didn’t always feel respected as a freshman, so he refrained from speaking up when he wanted to say something. Unlike the floaters and crossovers that have positioned Detroit as a Horizon League contender, vocal leadership was not as natural for McCallum entering his first season.
“It’s something that I’ve really had to learn over time. My whole life, being a point guard, I’ve always been a leader. But I wasn’t as vocal as I should have been,” he said. “Last year was a little tough for me, being a freshman. … Some guys don’t want to listen to a freshman. Even if it might be right, they don’t want to hear me. So, using last year’s experience and everything I went through this summer, my teammates, I think they respect me. So when I tell them something, they’ll listen.”
McCallum said he’s more confident this season. When Eli Holman, one of the more vocal Titans, went on a leave of absence, McCallum was forced to fill a void.
“Not having Eli here, Eli was a pretty good leader. And he has a deep voice that carries. So I had to step up and be more vocal and talk more and just try to lead my team and fill his shoes, too,” he said. “It’s great to have him back, though. I won’t lie.”
Detroit’s 5-8 record isn’t what the squad anticipated before the season started. But as the Titans prepare for conference play, they have regained Holman and his post prowess. He recorded 21 points, seven rebounds and four blocks in his season debut, a 92-81 win over Western Michigan Dec. 8.
With the 6-foot-10 big man inside, Detroit is a different team -- it’s the squad many billed as the favorite to win the Horizon League entering the season. Their last two games -- single-digit losses to nationally ranked Alabama and Mississippi State -- demonstrated the Titans’ potential.
McCallum said Horizon League play is like a new season for Detroit. But McCallum said he understands that he has to do -- and say -- what’s best for the team to position the Titans for a title run.
“We’re about to start conference play and just try to turn it around, live out our goal and win a Horizon League championship,” he said.