Game #8-467: Loyola (Ill.) Ramblers at Detroit TitansJanuary 25, 2012 7:00 pm
When you start coming to games at the same arena, with the same team, the result is not that much different that the last. This is my 5th time covering the University of Detroit Mercy Titans at Callahan Hall, and quite frankly, nothing ever changes. Everything gets tired out: the same starting five, the same dance
routine from the dance team at half time, the same style of play on the court, the same music from the pep band, the same spot in the crowd with the same cheerleader in the aisle to get us hype, even the same outcome of the game (I'm gonna tell you right now, UDM beat the Ramblers of Loyola-Ill 67-52).
So why am I here? No I don't have season tickets or want to creep on the dance team. For this game recap, I decided to do something a little bit different. I decided to focus on one star player for the entire 40 minutes of the game, with the intention of looking at what makes a great mid-major basketball player. For the Titans, that player is their sophomore starting point guard, 3 Ray McCallum Jr.
McCallum, the son of Titans head coach Ray McCallum Sr. was highly recruited out of Detroit Country Day High School (the same prep school that gave us Chris Webber) and got offers from Arizona, Florida, and UCLA. But he chose to stay in Detroit to play for his father. It was a move that, at the time, it was thought would most certainly turn the Horizon League upside down.
Unfortunately, we all know that one player does not make a team. The Titans' lackluster play so far this season is evidence of that (10-11 before Wednesday's game). With McCallum averaging 15.2 ppg and 3.6 assists per game, and 4 others averaging 9 points a game or better, McCallum clearly is the best player on the team but is not the focal point... or is he?
As the game started, McCallum got caught on a high ball screen and was almost knocked to the floor, something he was clearly not expecting. And surprisingly, the first offensive set of the game, shooting guard Chase Simon brought the ball up the court. But as the game progressed, the Titans were able to run the score up to 21-5, with the majority of the scoring coming from everybody but McCallum. Once into the meat of the game it is clear that the Titans want their offense to flow through McCallum. He's the traffic cop of the team (as one would expect a point guard of his caliber to be), it was almost reminiscent of an episode of
Nickelodeon cartoon Hey Arnold where the Titans have to "give the ball to Tucker!"
At the half, McCallum only had 3 points. Despite the fact that he would finish the game with 13 points and 6 assists (about par for the course for him), his strengths and weaknesses became most apparent during this game. He doesn't have a good defensive stance and lets rebounds come to him. When faced with guarding Loyola point guard Denzel Brito, he was able to lock him down in more of a 1-on-1 style of defense. But what makes McCallum so good is his pin-point accuracy with his passes. Because he has a history of attacking the rim and being able to take someone 1-on-1, he drew A LOT of attention form Rambler defenders whenever he had the ball in the lane... which opens up the opportunity for the Chris Paul-to-Blake Griffin-esque lob dunk, which is a staple of the UDM offense.
The bottom line with McCallum is he has an NBA-style game. I doubt there is another guard in the Horizon league who can take him 1-on-1, and his Dad knows it too. That's why the Titans have been playing the way they have been all season: quick shots, lob dunks, poor rebounding, fast breaks and the occasional tomahawk throw down. The only problem with that is if they aren't careful they could let a lead slip away. Which they almost did tonight; the Ramblers slowly inched their way back and by five minutes to go in the game they had the lead back within five points until the ongoing offensive drought for both teams ended and the Ramblers never scored again.
Can one player make a difference? It's clear that McCallum has the skills and the bravado to have played for a school above the Red Line. But the real challenge for the Titans isn't if McCallum can score frequently, or distribute the ball like they need him to. It's if McCallum's lack of fear can rub off on the rest of the team. When a player like him shuns the big time schools to be a part of the Other 24, it's almost more of a challenge, because more is expected of you on the court in more ways than just your own personal performance.