Ray Michael McCallum occasionally would play pickup basketball games on the Lloyd Noble Center practice court.
“We had a group of athletics department employees who were in their 20s and 30s, and Ray was better than most players on the court,” recalled Mike Houck, who has coordinated publicity for OU men's basketball since 1995. “He was so polished for his age. It was obvious he had an incredibly bright future. In the back of my head I was thinking, ‘This kid could wind up in the NBA one day.' ”
At the time, McCallum was attending Alcott Middle School in Norman.
Ray McCallum Sr. served as an assistant during Kelvin Sampson's last two seasons at OU (2004-06). Ray Jr. would sit behind the Sooners bench at home games and often wore OU jersey No. 34, the number worn by power forward Kevin Bookout.
“I remember Little Ray,” Bookout said. “He was always around. He and Coach McCallum always worked out together after practice. Ray (Jr.) was a hard worker, even at that age. You kind of suspected he was always going to be a good basketball player. I'd always talk to him, see how things were going. I'd rebound for him if he needed somebody to rebound. He was just anxious. He was always ready to get better.”
Ray Jr. has been closely evaluated his entire life. It began when he was selected as one of the nation's top 5 players in the fourth grade. “That really opened my eyes, how early they were evaluating kids,” Ray Sr. said.
At Alcott, Ray Jr. quickly was recognized as (perhaps) the greatest middle school player in Oklahoma history.
“I think he was ranked something like the second-best eighth grader in the U.S.,” Bookout said. “It was something ridiculous. I was like, ‘How do they rank these kids this early?' ”
Ray Sr. chuckled at his son's lofty status. “Hey, he's got that Oklahoma foundation,” Ray Sr. said.
The latest evaluation has Ray Jr. slated as a second-round pick in Thursday night's NBA Draft.
The early years
“The first words out of his mouth were, ‘ball, ball, ball,' ” Ray Sr. recalled of his only son. “From the time he was two years old, he took a basketball with him everywhere he went. I think he even slept with one.”
By age 4, Ray Jr. was an accomplished ballhandler in “Little Dribblers” halftime performances when his father was coaching Ball State. “He could have dribbled between his legs when he was four,” Ray Sr. said, “but his legs were too short.”
(The elder Ray knew the challenges of being height-deprived while excelling as a player himself while becoming the Mid-American Conference scoring champion at Ball State. In 1983, Ray Sr. won the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award, which honors shorter-than-average players who excel despite their size.)
By age 5, Ray Jr. was able to shoot on a 10-foot-high basket as quality court time grew longer between father and son.
It was the summer after eighth grade when Ray Jr. was able to dunk for the first time.
“I count Norman, Oklahoma, as my first dunk,” Ray Jr. said. “It was simple. I'm not going to hype it up. It was off two feet. I caught it with one hand, threw the ball in, was able to hold on to the rim and I counted that as my first dunk.”
Blessed with a 40-inch vertical jump, Ray Jr. has amassed an impressive array of dunks ever since.
Ray Jr. did more than play pickup games at OU. He would also hit the weight room and did numerous ball-handling drills.
“He was almost like a college player then in how he approached his workout,” said Sampson, now an assistant coach for the NBA Houston Rockets. “I remember (son) Kellen coming home and saying, ‘Dad, Little Ray is going to be really, really, really good.' It's just been so fun watching his progression.”
Ray Sr. remained an assistant for Sampson when he left to become coach at Indiana. That same year, Ray Jr. somewhat unfathomably started as a ninth grader at Bloomington North High School.