Offers from big-time college coaches to play for big-time college programs arrived with regularity for point guard Ray McCallum Jr.
The thought of playing plenty of power games with plenty of nationally-televised nights in a power conference sounded nice to McCallum, then a schoolboy star in suburban Detroit. But every time McCallum saw himself leaving home, he also thought of leaving behind his best friend, his toughest critic, his strongest supporter and the person who knew his game better than anyone.
So after he led Detroit Country Day to a state championship as a prep senior, after his appearance in the McDonald’s All-American game, after 10 days of hard thought about what would be best for him, McCallum decided to play for his father, Ray, at the University of Detroit.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said McCallum, who leads Detroit (1-0) into town Monday to face Notre Dame (1-0) at Purcell Pavilion (9 p.m., ESPNU). “It’s tough at times, but I knew coming here would be in my best interest, to play for the coach who I feel is the best in the country.
“He gets the best out of me each day.”
And at the end of the day, the two transition roles of player-coach back to father-son. They already have found a balance between Senior asking Junior to run a certain set in practice, and then later asking him during a family dinner about life off the court as a college sophomore.
The relationship works. Had McCallum decided to go elsewhere, the best his father might do was maybe catch one game in person, a few others on television. Their main means of communication would be via a late-night text or e-mail after games, maybe a quick phone conversations. Now he can see his only son and youngest child grow and mature as a person and as a player every day.
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” Coach McCallum said. “It’s a dream come true.”
McCallum weighed offers from national championship programs Arizona, Florida and UCLA. He even visited Notre Dame, but Irish coach Mike Brey, who had landed a solid class of sophomore guards in Eric Atkins, Alex Dragicevich and Jerian Grant, knew his chances of getting McCallum were slim given the family factor.
“We knew early that probably wasn’t going to happen,” Brey said. “I told dad early in the process, ‘Look, I think he should play for you. But if that isn’t something that’s going to work, I’ll take care of him.”
The 6-foot-2, 188-pound McCallum enjoyed a fine freshman season. He led Detroit in scoring (13.5 ppg), assists (4.9), steals (54) and minutes (33.3). He earned Horizon League rookie of the year honors. Entering his second year as the preseason pick for league player of the year and a Top 50 candidate for the Wooden Award, McCallum’s confidence received a boost this summer when he represented Team USA at the World University Games in China.
Extended a late tryout invitation, he arrived in Colorado Springs, Colo., to find Notre Dame co-captain Tim Abromaitis as his roommate. The two knew little about the other, but became fast friends during the tryout process and the two weeks overseas.
“It was definitely nice to room with him because he’s kind of a ‘chill’ personality like myself,” said Abromaitis, who will miss Monday’s game while sitting out the season’s first four after an NCAA rules violation his sophomore season. “He definitely went out there and proved he was the player that he was hyped up to be in high school.”
What type of player will fans see Monday?
“There’s definitely a smoothness to his game,” Abromaitis said. “Everything looks effortless.”
McCallum was fine with a secondary role as a freshman. He didn’t want to step on any toes by voicing too strong of an opinion or by taking too many shots. The second time around, he’s more vocal on the court, plays at a consistent tempo and isn’t afraid to make a big play. He insists that he’s a point guard first, a scorer and everything else second.
“I’ve got to do all the little things to help my team win,” said McCallum, who had 15 points, seven assists and two steals in Friday’s win over Lake Erie.
Playing in Purcell Pavilion likely won’t quicken the collective pulse of the Titans, who know well of going on the road to start a season. A year ago, the first two games took Detroit to The Pit to play New Mexico and the Carrier Dome to face Syracuse. Losses were the end result of each, but the experience helped harden the Titans. They won’t walk into the arena late Monday hoping to win.
They believe this year is their chance to earn their first NCAA tournament bid since 1999. Detroit is a lot more than just McCallum, something Notre Dame already knows.
“We feel we have a really good team this year and can compete with some of the top teams in the country,” McCallum said. “We’re trying to do big things this year.”
Staff writer Tom Noie: