Detroit — As Detroit Titans point guard Ray McCallum prepares to celebrate Thanksgiving, he will no doubt be giving thanks for at least one thing — the comforts of home.
The freshman standout began his college career with tough road contests at New Mexico and Syracuse, and his stats line didn’t quite resemble that of a high school All-American.
In his first game, McCallum played only 22 minutes because of foul trouble, and nearly had as many turnovers (four) as points (six). Things didn’t get much better in his second game, where he shot just 25 percent, scoring six points and two assists in 28 minutes.
“The two first games were kind of a rough start for me,” he said. “The Pitt and Carrier Dome are two of the toughest places to play. I’ve never played in front of a crowd like that.”
The road trip was a learning experience for McCallum.
“It was an adjustment,” he said. “But overall it helped me as a player, and it really helped our team focus.”
McCallum put some of those lessons to use in Friday night’s home opener against Indiana Tech, scoring 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting. He also added six rebounds, three assists and three steals in the Titans 93-62 rout of the Warriors.
“I’m definitely getting a lot more comfortable,” he said. “I’ve really been focusing in practice to try to get better.”
McCallum has spent many of his minutes playing alongside veteran point guard Donovan Foster, which has helped accelerate McCallum’s learning process. In Friday’s game, the Foster-McCallum tandem hooked up for alley-oop dunks, a reflection of their comfort level.
“Our chemistry’s getting a lot better,” McCallum said. “He knows when to find me and where I like to get the ball, and I know when to give it to him.”
Coach Ray McCallum said he likes playing the two point guards at the same time.
“I think it’s a real advantage,” he said. “They both have a high IQ, they’re two of our more verbal guys and they’re two of our best ball-handlers and can make plays off of each other.”
Playing alongside another point guard is not new to Foster. Last season, he often shared the court with senior Woody Payne.
After Foster’s four-steal performance Friday night, Coach McCallum said it’s apparent Foster learned a lot from Payne.
“He has really come in and energized us with his defensive intensity,” Coach McCallum said. “He has quick feet and really gets after the ball. It’s a role that Woody played last season, and it’s been really good for us.”
Since his arrival on campus over two months ago, young Ray McCallum has been asked to spearhead the revival of a basketball program and to carry it back to national relevance.
As if he didn’t have enough expectations placed on him already, he was given one more Friday night — to continue the legacy of Rashad Phillips.
UDM’s all-time leading scorer, Phillips had his jersey retired before the game. During the ceremony, Phillips passed the No. 3 to McCallum.
“I told him to take pride in this number because I did a lot in it,” Phillips said. “It was an honor to pass it along to such a great player.”
McCallum said the ceremony was touching.
“It was a good moment,” he said. “Those are big shoes I have to fill. I’m going to try to live his legacy and get us to the NCAA tournament.”
(Michael Martinez is a junior journalism student at UDM.)