Detroit's Ray McCallum, Jr. stands out in Vegas

USA TODAY Sports

I arrived to Las Vegas last week without a plan, the result of the Pistons playing their summer league slate in Orlando rather than joining 21 other NBA teams in the desert. But even without a team to cover, a rookie from Detroit still captured my attention.

Ray McCallum, Jr., drafted 36th overall out of Detroit Mercy, played with poise and control for the Sacramento Kings during the Las Vegas Summer League, establishing himself as a leader in a backcourt that also featured Ben McLemore, an aggressive scoring guard selected 29 spots higher.

The two players overcame occasional uneven play early in the week, developing chemistry and peaking at the same time in their final game last Friday as McCallum dished 11 assists and McLemore scored 27 points

"That's something that I've always taken pride in, being a true point guard," McCallum said after the Kings beat the Hawks, 93-87. "I've always liked to get my teammates involved."

McCallum carried the scoring load in college, averaging 18.7 points per game for the Titans his junior year. But playing next to a lottery pick, he knows that won't often be the case. "Here at the next level, I got to get the ball to the guys that they pay big dollars to."

Helping McLemore finish strong was a big priority for McCallum, especially after the team opened summer league play with four straight losses and McLemore scored just a single point in the fourth game.

"I feel like anytime you have a group of 12 guys who, it's the first time everyone is playing on the same team together, it's going to be difficult," McCallum said. "But we watched a lot of film, and I think over the course of the tournament our chemistry got better.

"Ben is looking to him, because that's the kind of leader that Ray is."

"When you're watching us throughout the game, Ben and I are always talking. I'm asking him where does he want the ball, what spots is he looking for. And that's my job, to get him the ball," he said. "When you have such a great player like that -- and he's such a great talent -- I got to get him going. And I felt like today, he got going himself. So when he gets it going like that, it's easy for me to find him and keep him hot."

McCallum's unselfish mindset hasn't gone unnoticed by Sacramento's coaching staff.

"He's shown me this week that, OK, here's a guy who's a coach's son, three years in college and has a great feel for the game, great kid," said new Kings head coach Mike Malone. "Ben is looking to him, because that's the kind of leader that Ray is."

Star-divide

McCallum always did embrace his status as a coach's son. After earning McDonald's All-American honors coming out of Detroit Country Day, McCallum had offers from major programs like UCLA, Arizona and Florida. But instead of chasing the limelight, he opted to play for his father, Detroit Mercy's head coach Ray McCallum, Sr.

"It was a really special time getting to play for my dad. That's something that you can't replace."

"It was a special time playing with my dad," he said, repeating himself for emphasis, "It was a really special time getting to play for my dad. That's something that you can't replace.

"It was definitely a tough decision, turning down major offers from teams competing for a national championship, but that father-son relationship and winning a [Horizon League] championship and changing a program, it's special."

"My father was a winner himself, and he's really instilled that in my family, a competitive, winning mindset. He's always talks about winning, and I think that's made me a great competitor, and someone who's always eager to win."

Even now that he's in the NBA -- he officially signed a three-year contract last week -- McCallum is still loyal to his father and Detroit. He continued speaking to several reporters Friday long after the rest of his teammates had left, explaining that he sees it as part of his duty.

"It's part of the job, and I try to take advantage of any opportunity," he said. "Coming from a small school, not everybody really knows who I was, so any opportunity I can, I guess, get my brand out there -- it helps the team out, helps my father and the University of Detroit out -- I'll take full advantage of it."

Star-divide

While McCallum's ability to see the floor and find his teammates is already apparent, the rest of his game is not yet complete. For starters, McCallum shot just 38 percent from the field in Vegas. But Malone isn't worried, predicting that his shot will fall more consistently with a mechanical tweak.

"He's learning, and as his jump shot comes into play and it gets better and more consistent, that's going to open up so many more things for him," Malone said. "Right now, his shot is not flawed. He's got a good shot [but] his release point has to get higher. When he misses his jump shot and a lot of his free throws, it's because they're on the front rim, he has a flat shot at times. I spent some time with his father talking to him about that, he's got to get his shot up higher, give it more of a chance to go in.

"He also has to develop a midrange game. He's realized this week, unlike in college when he could get to the rim a lot, now there's a lot bigger guys, he's got to develop a floater, he has to develop a midrange pullup, which is a dying art obviously."

McCallum agrees, promising to continue working on his ability to finish at the rim.

"That's all I'm going to be work on when I get home, just work on different finishing moves, because I know at the next level I'm not going to be able to get to the hole every time," he said. "I'm going to have to work on cleaning up my midrange game, my outside shooting, just work on different finishes around the rim."

If he can do that, don't be surprised if McCallum carves out a spot in Sacramento's crowded point guard rotation -- a difficult task considering incumbent starter Isaiah Thomas and new arrival Greivis Vasquez combined to start 140 games last season. Just having the chance to sign an NBA contract and compete, though, is a dream realized for the young point guard.

"It feels great. I'm definitely truly blessed and feel honored. It's something that I've been wanting my whole life and I had the opportunity to get it done and I'm happy to be a Sacramento King."

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