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.
Two years later, Ray Sr. left Indiana to coach Detroit (Mercy) in the Horizon League. As a senior at Detroit's Country Day School — the same institution where Shane Battier and Chris Webber previously excelled — Ray Jr. claimed the Class B state championship and was named a McDonald's All-American.
The nation's elite college programs fawned over Ray Jr., who took official recruiting visits to UCLA, Florida, Arizona, Oklahoma and also contemplated playing for dear old dad.
Rather than kidnapping his son, Ray Sr. wanted Ray Jr. to experience the recruiting process, viewing it not only as a reward but also as a chance to grow and learn.
Hit the road
Since his playing days ended, Ray Sr. has served as an assistant at Ball State (1983-84), Wisconsin (1984-93) and Michigan (1993), was head coach at Ball State (1993-2000) and Houston (2000-04), and was an assistant at OU and Indiana (2006-08) before taking over at UDM.
A close-knit family that also includes wife, Wendy, and daughter, Brittany, went along for the ride.
Ray Sr. said he believes this vagabond existence helped his son become a better player. “He's moved around a lot, and in his case, I think it's really helped him,” Ray Sr. said. “He's had to prove himself everywhere he's gone.”
After jumping from place to place his entire life, when it came time decide where to play college ball, Ray Jr. chose to stay right where he was.
Even with all that exposure to big-time college basketball, Ray Jr. was more heavily influenced by an opportunity to play for his father.
“Sitting behind the bench (as a child) at Detroit is not quite the same as sitting behind the bench at Oklahoma and Indiana,” Ray Sr. admitted.
Many assumed it was a foregone conclusion Ray Jr. would sign with UDM, but the father wasn't so sure. “I'll tell you what,” Ray Sr. said, “I had my worried moments.”
Sampson said he wasn't at all surprised Ray Jr. chose to play for his father. “If you knew that family, it wasn't a surprise at all,” Sampson said.
Ray Jr. said the biggest reason he chose Detroit was he wanted to help his father succeed.
“He's been my coach my whole life,” Ray Jr. said. “He's taught me everything I learned, so why would you not want to go out and help your family, you know? So that's what it was really all about.”
Feeling a draft
Ray Sr. was the 164th player picked in the 1983 NBA Draft, an eighth-round selection by his home state Indiana Pacers. One of the final cuts at training camp, Ray Sr. wound up back at Ball State as an assistant coach four months after being selected.
His son's goal is to be picked in an NBA Draft that is now just two rounds (60 players total).
Though being a coach's son is no picnic, playing for your father can lead to even more torture. And yet Ray Jr. managed to thrive.
“Having my dad as a coach, I didn't ever look at it as having any pressure. ‘OK, he's my dad and my coach and I'm supposed to be good.' I never looked at it like that,” Ray Jr. said.
On June 7, Ray Jr. returned to Oklahoma for a private workout session with the Thunder. “It went really well,” Ray Jr. said. “Honestly, it was one of the best workouts I had.”
Whether McCallum is asked to return to Oklahoma remains to be seen. OKC has pick Nos. 12, 29 and 32 in Thursday's draft. McCallum projections range from No. 38 to No. 53.
Birth date: June 12, 1991
Hometown: Beverly Hills, Mich.
School: Detroit (Mercy)
2012-13 stats: 37.3 mpg; 18.4 ppg; 5.2 rpg; 4.5 apg; 2.0 spg; .477 FG; .715 FT
Strengths: Good decision-maker who takes care of the basketball. Athletic with good speed. Plays taller than 6-foot-2, thanks largely to a 40-inch vertical jump. Perimeter shooting improved last season. Excels in transition and loves to attack.
Weaknesses: Average size and length (6-foot-1/4 without shoes; 6-foot-3 1/4 wingspan). Must be quicker working off pick-and-rolls. Inconsistent shooter. Didn't face elite competition. Will likely struggle defensively with lack of size and strength.
How he could help the Thunder: Could be a candidate at the No. 32 pick. A non-guaranteed contract could grow into role as a backup for Russell Westbrook, a player he admires. Would be on reserve if Reggie Jackson's extension is too expensive.
Projections: No. 38 (cbssports.com); No. 43 (espn.com); No. 47 (draftexpress.com); No. 53 (nbadraft.net)
Quotable: “Little Ray always knew where his father was in the stands. His father would give him a look like, ‘Play the game.' When I saw that, I was like, ‘That's real father-son love right there.' He tries to teach his dad these little dance moves — this upper-body type thing — but his dad is more old school. It's hilarious. Big Ray tells us all time, ‘Back in the day ...' ” – former UDM teammate Eli Holman, who has known the McCallum family since Ray Jr. played high school ball in Bloomington, Ind.
Ray McCallum Sr.: Earned first-team All-Mid-American Conference honors his last three years at Ball State and was MAC Player of the Year as a senior. Finished as the MAC's career scoring leader with 2,109 points. Was the first Ball State player in any sport to have his number (No. 10) retired. Only he and Bonzi Wells (No. 42) have had their numbers retired at the school. Won the state championship his junior and senior seasons at Muncie (Ind.) Central High School. Born March 6, 1961, in West Memphis, Ark.
Ray McCallum Jr.: Averaged 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists to lead Detroit's Country Day School to a state high school title his senior year. Named to McDonald's All-American team and finished third in the Michigan's “Mr. Basketball” voting. Played his first two high school seasons at Bloomington (Ind.) North, while his father was as an assistant at Indiana. Chose to play for father at Detroit (Mercy) despite being recruited nationally. Named 2013 Horizon League Player of the Year as a junior.