Soccer, football, you name it. Ray McCallum dabbled in all kinds of sports as a youngster, but he was born with a basketball in his hands. The son of a coach, hoops were probably always part of life’s plan for the new Sacramento Kings point guard.
“My father’s been coaching for about 26 years,” the 22-year-old rookie said. “So when I was born, he put a basketball in my hand from day one.”
He learned the game the right way. Growing up, McCallum’s father, University of Detroit Mercy head coach Ray McCallum Sr., never forced basketball on his son. Instead, the younger McCallum took to the game naturally, attending his first basketball camp, his dad’s, at the tender age of five years old.
“We never let him run to the top of the arena,” McCallum Sr. said of his son, who watched and paid close attention to all the action on the court at such a young age. “We sat him behind the bench where he could see the game, study the game, learn the game.”
When McCallum was about 10 years old, he started to take basketball more seriously. Practices became more regimented and routined. McCallum worked on perfecting all facets of his game: left-hand layups, right-hand layups, pull-up jump shots, ball-handling and more. A conversation with his father prompted him to focus more intently on crafting his play.
The extra work paid off and even at a young age, scouts took notice. By the time McCallum was around 11, his father said that his son was ranked as one of the top 24 fourth graders in the entire country.
His son’s rankings were a nice compliment, but visions of the NBA were still a pipedream. When he got to high school, that started to change. In McCallum’s sophomore year, he got the chance to play with and against some of the best prep players in the nation. After performing as well as anyone could’ve imagined, it was then that his father started to believe that his son had a real shot of making the league.
“He played like he belonged,” McCallum Sr. said of how his son performed against players like Miles and Mason Plumlee and Tyler Zeller, who are all now in the NBA.
Prep star honors would follow. Among the accolades he received in high school, McCallum was named a McDonalds All-American and big schools came calling. McCallum gave strong consideration to Arizona and UCLA, two Pac-12 powerhouses, before shockingly picking Detroit Mercy.
His decision didn’t come without criticism, but that didn’t matter to McCallum. For the Kings rookie guard, the choice to play in a small conference and for his father, who had coached the Titans for three seasons up to that point, was all about finding the right place to grow.
“I felt like it’s not where you go,” McCallum said. “When you get to the school, it’s what you do. And I felt like I was able to make a difference, change the program around.”
In addition to the criticism of picking a mid-major school, one would assume that coming in as the coach’s son would raise the eyebrows of fellow teammates. However, the opposite was true.
McCallum let his play on the court do all the talking. With his talent, the Kings rookie point guard had no trouble earning the respect of his new teammates, many of whom already had existing relationships with the 22-year-old guard.
“They were like my older brothers because (my father) had coached there when I was in high school,” McCallum said of Detroit’s upperclassmen. “So I was always around them…there was no pressure, just was able to go out there and play.”
It also helped that his father didn’t treat him like a coach’s favorite. If McCallum made mistakes in practice, his father held him accountable, usually by making his son run sprints up and down the court. Under his dad’s watchful eye, McCallum said he was challenged day in and day out during his three years at Detroit Mercy.
“He definitely was always treating me the toughest,” McCallum said of his father. “Any little thing, any small detail, he was always on me.”
Now a pro, Ray McCallum won’t have his dad’s daily guidance to fall back on. But if you asked Ray McCallum Sr., he’d tell you his son is more than ready for the bright lights of the NBA.