Recently as part of his NCAA Tournament interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel caught up with Detroit sophomore guard Ray McCallum Jr., who helped lead the Titans to their first NCAA appearance since 1998. The McDonald's All-American turned some heads when he committed to play for his father at Detroit, and the move has paid off.
Jon Teitel: You scored four points for the West team in a three-point win in the 2010 McDonald's All-American Game. Which of your fellow All-Americans impressed you the most?
Ray McCallum Jr.: I was impressed by all of them, especially the co-MVPs (Harrison Barnes and Jared Sullinger). Brandon Knight was also great. We actually won the game after Knight hit a game-winning three from the corner with three seconds left.
JT: You turned down offers from several big-time programs to play for your dad at Detroit. What is the best part of having your dad as your coach, and what is the...not best part?
RM: The best part is that I get to see him every day, and since he knows my game better than anyone in the world he can teach me a lot. There is not really a bad part although he is probably tougher on me than on the other guys, it just helps make me a better player.
JT: In 2011 you were named Horizon Rookie of the Year. How were you able to come in and be so successful so quickly?
RM: I had high expectations and have always had to prove myself throughout my career, so I wanted to show my teammates that I could lead the team as a freshman and do the things necessary to help the team win.
JT: Last summer you played for Team USA at the World University Games. How did you like playing for Matt Painter, and was that the most talented team you have ever been a part of?
RM: It was real special to play with older players, which helped take my game to the next level. Coach Painter is very defensive-minded, which is something I needed to work on. It was like having a real college practice against the best competition in the country. We had a stacked team at every position so you had to fight for playing time every day, but unfortunately we did not get the gold.
JT: Your cousin Ja'Rob McCallum scored 10 points/game this year as a junior at Milwaukee. Who is the best athlete in the family, and how long until the McCallums take over the entire conference?!
RM: Ja'Rob is a great player and really good shooter. We grew up about 45 minutes away so we would play together a lot when we were younger. All of the McCallums are pretty good players.
JT: You had 21 points (10-16 FG) and four steals in a 20-point win over Valparaiso in the Horizon League tournament title game and named 2012 tournament MVP on your dad's 51st birthday. How were you able to beat the Crusaders in their gym after getting swept by them during the regular season, and is that the best birthday gift your dad has ever received?
RM: I was 0-5 against Valparaiso over the past two years coming into that game, so I just did not want to lose to them again. My dad always says that the point guard is the head of the defense so I just tried to be aggressive. Stopping them from getting good three-point looks was important. We like to play in big games in front of big crowds because we are not on national TV that much. It has to be one of his best birthday gifts ever, so I hope he liked his gift!
JT: Your team became the second in Horizon League history to win four games in the conference tournament. How exhausted were you by the time you wrapped up the title?
RM: We were pretty tired but we knew as the three-seed that we would have to win four in a row in order to extend our season. I like the way it is set up with a break after the first couple of games because I was still wired after our first win! We actually had a good practice today and are well-rested.
JT: Your scoring and foul shooting both increased from your freshman to your sophomore year. How have you been able to improve so much from last year to this year?
RM: I really put in a lot of time in the offseason on my jump shot and my teammates did a great job of finding me when I am open. At the foul line I have the mindset that they are free points for our team, so I take them very seriously.
JT: The Horizon League is the only non-power conference that has won an NCAA tournament game in each of the past seven years. Do you feel any extra pressure or expectations to get a win in March?
RM: We do not feel any extra pressure, but coming out of this conference a lot of people have high expectations for us to make a run. I feel confident in my teammates and coaching staff, and we will just do whatever it takes to try to help us win. We will relax and play our game.
JT: What seed do you think you deserve, and what kind of team would you matchup against the best?
RM: I am unsure how all that seeding stuff works. It is pretty crazy. I am not expecting a great seed, but we have won 10 of our last 11 games so we are a pretty hot team and playing well together. Defense wins championships so we are taking pride in our defense. I think we will matchup well against anyone. We can guard a big team or a small team at whatever pace they want to play.