Fame over family?
DETROIT – Ray McCallum Sr. is living the dream of a basketball dad.
His son, Ray Jr., is one of the most coveted recruits in America, juggling scholarship offers from UCLA, Florida, Kansas, Arizona, Oklahoma and Minnesota. There were more schools before the list was cut.
Ray Jr. can name his future, dealing with phone calls and recruiting pitches at a dizzying pace; Ben Howland holding while Tubby Smith knocks on the front door. And as proud as the entire thing has made his father, there’s one unique aspect about this recruitment.
Deep down, McCallum Sr. doesn’t want his son to accept any of those big-school offers. Not any of them.
Florida and Kansas may have combined to win three of the last four NCAA titles, but McCallum wishes his son would instead choose the University of Detroit, a mid-major program that finished 7-23 last season and played in front of an average of 1,893 fans a night.
That’s because Ray McCallum Sr. is the school’s basketball coach and Ray McCallum Jr. is the most decorated recruit the Titans have a shot at signing in November.
“It’s a different situation, that’s for sure,” Ray Sr. said with a laugh.
McCallum Sr. has heard all the jokes, about how he might shut off his son’s cell phone to keep the other coaches at bay. Or how this is the one recruit in his career he can buy a car for and not worry about NCAA investigators (parents trump the rule book).
He’s entering his 13th year as a college head coach (Ball State and Houston previously) and has recruited hundreds of players. This just happens to be the first one who sleeps down the hall. And it’s the first time he’s ever sat in on the home presentations from the opposing recruiters.
Here’s the human dilemma:
Professionally, McCallum Sr. would love to add a player such as his son – a 6-foot-1 point guard ranked No. 60 in his class by Rivals.com. A program such as Detroit has only so many chances at a player of that caliber.
Yet personally, he wants his son to be happy and make his own decision.
Yes, his team could use the talent, he’d love the opportunity to be around his child and he’s confident that he can develop his son’s game as well as, or better, than anyone else. The last thing McCallum Sr. wants to do, however, is guilt-trip his son into joining the “family business.” He isn’t going to badger at the breakfast table.
“I think it has to be something that he really wants to do,” McCallum Sr. said.
While the McCallums’ situation is unusual, it’s hardly a first. Just a few hours drive up the road, Central Michigan coach Ernie Zeigler is recruiting his son Trey, a top-30 player nationally. So too is Kansas, Michigan State, Michigan, Oklahoma, UCLA, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and others.
Two dads, one state, same situation.
While it’s one thing for a high-profile son to join his father at a major program, it’s another deal when the dad is at a mid-major.
McCallum Sr. is entering his second year at U of D and his track record of success says he’ll build a winner; he’s won nearly 200 games and helped develop 10 NBA players. Detroit itself has a winning history of NCAA tournament appearances and is a strong academic school. But it will never have a 15,000-seat arena or play on ESPN twice a week.
In 1993, Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel III was Ray McCallum Jr., a top recruit whose father, Jeff II, coached at mid-major Old Dominion. He chose to play at Duke and a couple years later his brother, Jason, chose North Carolina. Their father wound up getting fired from ODU and is now an NBA assistant.
Now Capel’s trying to get Ray Jr. to follow his lead to OU. And Smith, whose son Saul played for him at Kentucky, is trying to tell Ray Jr. to leave his father behind. It’s a dizzying mess of loyalty vs. opportunity.
McCallum Sr. has spoken to numerous coaches and players who’ve been in similar situations. Valparaiso University coach Homer Drew told him about how his son, Bryce, said no to Indiana to stay home and led the little school to one of the NCAA tournament’s most famous upsets in 1998.
“The dads really enjoyed having their sons around,” McCallum Sr. said. “And the kids did too.”
He is savoring the entire situation.
The Detroit coach has found it beneficial to see how other top coaches recruit. He laughs at the fact that some of them have met him at his basketball office. And mostly, he’s just a proud father, going on about how exciting it is to see his son’s hard work, both in basketball and the classroom, pay off.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” McCallum Sr., himself a great player at Ball State in the early 1980s, said. “He’s being recruited by some outstanding coaches that have some outstanding programs.”
As for the college choice, he says, well, it’s not like there’s a bad decision.
His son either stays home and the Titan program benefits. Or he goes off to some basketball powerhouse on a full ride.
Ray Jr. is in the process of taking campus visits and gleaning information from the other coaches. Since he’s over at U of D just about every afternoon, there is no lack of familiarity with the players, the campus or the positive direction the team is headed. Plus his older sister, Brittany, attends the school.
And he obviously knows the coach.
At some point this fall the entire family, including mother Wendy, will sit down and sort it out.
McCallum Sr. will promise only one thing. He’ll make whatever pitch for Detroit is needed, but when final decision time comes, he’s no longer a college basketball coach.
He’s his son’s father.