By: Tom Ballato
In college basketball, a recruit can change the trajectory of a program. Player rankings, 4-star, and 5-star recruits all give a telltale sign of what kind of talent a program is getting. And who can forget the crystal balls, a prediction of where the recruit might end up.
Ray McCallum Jr.’s story is different. It’s taken him from the NBA to beautiful countries worldwide, but it all started in front of his friends and family in Michigan.
McCallum, a four-star recruit and fifth-ranked point guard in 2010, decided to play at Detroit Mercy for his father, Ray McCallum Sr., over UCLA and Arizona. During his senior year of high shcool, he saw staying home to play for his father would be a great opptrotunity.
The father and son duo did some remarkable things together, including a run to the NCAA Tournament in 2012. That run to the NCAA Tournament started in the preseason and non-conference. Coach McCallum always scheduled tough opponents to get his team ready for the season. Detroit Mercy had the talent but had an up and down season, and they struggled during conference play finishing in third place with a record of 11-7. The group gelled at the right time, and it was tough, but Detroit Mercy won four games in the conference tournament to make the NCAA Tournament.
While at Detroit Mercy, McCallum won Horizon League Newcomer of the Year, Horizon League Player of the Year, and scored over 1,600 points in his three seasons with the program. The point guard changed the program’s trajectory, but nothing could take away the memories he made playing for his father.
“Being coached by my dad, he challenged me in every way and also allowed me to play my game and get better. He knew my goal was to make it to the NBA one day, and he helped me accomplish that,” said McCallum.
Surrounded by his family and closest friends and with no idea where he would end up, McCallum was selected with the 36th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft by the Sacramento Kings. Draft night was one of the best days of his life.
In his first preseason game with Sacramento, McCallum soaked it all in. Putting on an NBA jersey and stepping out on the floor was everything he had worked for. Training camp put things into perspective for the 22-year-old rookie. He had to get stronger, more athletic and earn his minutes with Isaiah Thomas, Jimmer Fredette, and Greivis Vásquez, all fighting for minutes at point guard. He relished the opportunity and appeared in 45 games averaging 19.9 minutes per game as a rookie.
Two seasons in Sacramento, 113 games including 40 starts, McCallum proved to be a solid rotation player during his tenure with the Kings. The Kings traded him to the San Antonio Spurs for a future second-round pick in 2015.
While he didn’t play much in San Antonio, he soaked everything Gregg Popovich would say or preach. Learning from veterans Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili turned out to be a great overall experience for McCallum. His time in San Antonio taught him to be a true point guard.
McCallum spent two 10-day contracts with the Memphis Grizzlies and played in the NBA developmental league before taking his talents overseas in 2017.
Playing professionally overseas is a different game. As an American import, there are restrictions in some countries on how many Americans can be on the floor at one time or on the roster. Depending on what country you are playing in, expectations for Americans change. Americans are brought in, and if you don’t perform, you go home. McCallum embraced every challenge and was ready to make the jump overseas.
McCallum started in Spain playing in both local Spanish competitions (ACB Liga) and the EuroLeague. “It took me a while, that whole year, to learn how to play the European game. In the ACB, you have to be efficient, and you can learn how to run a team over there. Then in the EuroLeague, it’s a challenge every night. You are playing against the top 18 teams all of Europe, getting to play in hostile environments and crowds. You are traveling the world to different countries that I never thought I would get to experience,” said McCallum.
Between 2018-2020, McCallum played in Turkey, the NBA G League, Spain, and finished the 2020 season in China.
Istanbul, Turkey, was one of his favorite cities, and he enjoyed his five-month stint before mutually parting ways with the club. Returning to the United States and playing in front of family and friends again was a great feeling. He appeared in 12 games for the Agua Caliente Clippers of the NBA G League.
After a month in the G League, an opportunity to play big minutes in a small city in northern Spain came calling. McCallum got to play in the ACB again and found his rhythm in the teams’ offense.
In 2019, McCallum made the transition from Europe to play in China for the Shanghai Sharks. China is known for a more offensive game and fast-paced style of play. “I was in a great city, Shanghai. They expect you to go out and score, make assists, and essentially do everything for the team. That was a role I’ve never had,” McCallum said about his time in China.
The Chinese Basketball Association suspended the season due to the coronavirus, and McCallum returned home for a month and a half before returning to finish the season. In 34 minutes per game, McCallum averaged 22.3 points and 5.8 for the Sharks.
After returning home in August from China, spending time with friends and family was a priority. McCallum had offers to play abroad, and there was a possibility of a return to China, but that meant a shorter time at home.
The Greensboro Swarm approached him, and he decided to stay home to play in the G League’s six-week season. At just 29 years old, he was a veteran on a young Swarm team. Embracing the veteran role, McCallum found himself giving advice, coaching, and helping the younger players in any way he could. Greensboro’s record wasn’t the best, but the players came ready to compete every day.
Shortly after the G League season, the 29-year old point guard signed to play in Isreal for the remainder of the season with Hapoel Jerusalem.
Experiences, great friends, and relationships are things that basketball has given him, and he’s grateful for every opportunity that’s come his way.
Coaching, something he’s found himself doing from time to time, could be in the cards, but so could broadcasting for McCallum after basketball. He is finishing his degree in communications at Detroit Mercy. McCallum has appeared as a co-host on the Pivot & Go! Podcast with friend David Nurse. According to Nurse, McCallum has a bright future in coaching or broadcasting and is very well spoken.
Sharing friends’ journeys in the NBA and the NFL is something he’s enjoyed, but for now, McCallum wants to continue playing basketball for as long as he can.