By MATTHEW STEVENS
Mississippi State normally doesn’t usually see McDonald’s All-American selections until the calendar flips during league play.
At the very least if they were preparing for one of the nation’s top talents, the name on the front of the jersey would normally be a historical powerhouse like North Carolina, Duke, UCLA or Georgetown. Not the University of Detroit.
However, that’s special situation in store for fans when they make their way to Humphrey Coliseum tonight to see freshman point guard Ray McCallum Jr. takes the floor in Starkville.
This strange circumstance is begging the question: how did one of the nation’s best guards get signed by a mid-major school that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1999? The answer he was recruited by the man whose house he’s lived under for past 17 years as McCallum Jr., who is referred to by teammates as Little Ray, turned down scholarship offers to Florida, Arizona and Oklahoma to play for his father at the University of Detroit.
“I want to say a special thanks to my dad for supporting me throughout this process,” McCallum said on the day he announced his choice. “At the end of the day, I decided that I will be staying home.”
Ray McCallum Sr., who took the Titans from seven to 20 wins in his first two season at the helm, claims he didn’t know which school his son would pick until he got a call from him saying he needed to pick up a Detroit jersey from the equipment room for the signing day press conference.
“It is a little strange when Ben Howland is in your living room, recruiting your son to come to UCLA.,” McCallum told the New York Times. “It’s interesting being on the other side of that. Usually, I’m doing the recruiting. And when it was my turn to recruit Ray, I gave him our best pitch. As much as I hoped Ray would come here, we as parents gave him the freedom to make his own decisions.”
McCallum Jr. leads the team in assists at three per game but had only six points in the Titans (1-2) first two contests against NCAA qualifiers from last New Mexico and Syracuse on the road. Those pair of games mark Detroit’s only two games against Division 1 competition.
Mississippi State (2-0) has had problems stopping perimeter players in its first two wins over Tennessee State and Appalachian State. Mountaineers point guard Donald Sims exploited that weakness by posting 40 points Friday night against a host of MSU defenders. The point total was a bucket shy of tying the Humphrey Coliseum mark of 42 set by Ole Miss’ John Stroud in 1977.
“(McCallum) is a terrific basketball player on a terrific basketball team but after what we guarded (Friday in Sims) – their won’t be many guards ever to come into this place any better than that cat was right now,” Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury said.
On the offensive end, State has still failed to find a third scoring option while Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney sit out due to NCAA violations. The Bulldogs currently have only seniors Ravern Johnson and Kodi Augustus averaging in double figures. “I think if you’ve watched us play our first two games – we better take everybody seriously,” Stansbury said after Friday’s win.
After Monday, the Bulldogs return to action the day after Thanksgiving in a 6 p.m. showdown against Troy.