Ray McCallum joined the Sacramento Kings after being selected by the team in the second round of the 2013 NBA draft. Now nearly done with his first professional season, the rookie has had time to reflect on the experience, life in the NBA and an increased role in recent weeks.
The point guard recently shared some of those revelations with Bleacher Report. He discussed his relationship with his father, who also happened to be his college coach, and his first trip back to his hometown of Detroit as an NBA player (among other happenings in what has been an eventful season).
Speaking of eventful seasons, McCallum's rookie campaign wasn't too eventful during the first half of the year—at least as far as his on-court action went. That's because the point guard simply didn't get much playing time. However, he still had plenty of adjustments to make as far as adapting to life as a professional was concerned.
One of the biggest lessons he had to learn was acquiescing to the longer season and increased travel demands that come with playing in the NBA.
"You’re playing 82 games a year and you’re on the road a lot," McCallum said. "At the same time, you have a lot of free time. You just have to be smart and manage your time well and just take care of yourself. It’s a lot of games and a lot of travel, so you just take care of yourself and get your rest when you can."
Getting rest is a necessity, especially when one considers the competition. As the 22-year-old points out, there are no easy nights in the NBA. Everyone that's in the league is there for a reason. And coming from a mid-major school in the University of Detroit Mercy, getting used to the increase in competition was an adjustment.
"These are the best players in the world every time, every game we come out here," McCallum said. "For me, my position is point guard, and I’m going against one of the best point guards in the world. Like I said, coming from a smaller mid-major school, it’s a lot of different things I’ve seen, but it’s nothing I’ve never seen before. It’s been a good learning experience for me."
The rookie's learning experience has gone into overdrive in recent weeks. Ever since the team bought out Jimmer Fredette's contract shortly after the All-Star break, McCallum has gone from a player who only got minimal playing time to one who is a key backup.
In fact, prior to the All-Star break, McCallum averaged 4.0 minutes per game and only appeared in 16 of the team's first 53 games. In the time since, he's playing 23.2 minutes and has logged time in all 20 of the team's contests.
"All year I’ve been working hard, just watching and learning, waiting for my opportunity," McCallum said. "Since the All-Star break, I’ve gotten it. I try and go out there and make the best of it—go out there and have fun, play my game, be aggressive on both ends and just try to help the team out as much as I can."
One of the unique opportunities the point guard has had came on March 11, when the Kings took on the Pistons in McCallum's hometown of Detroit, a game the Kings dropped 99-89. In fact, he was even honored prior to the game and presented with a basketball.
"It’s always fun to go back," McCallum said. "It’s my first time going back home, playing in front of my friends and family. It was a special night having my parents sit there right on the floor and getting to watch me play. Unfortunately, we didn’t come out with the win, but I had fun out there, and it was a good experience for me."
Part of what makes McCallum's story unique is having his father double as his college coach. The duo teamed up together for three years at Detroit Mercy, going 42-27 over their final two years together and earning an NCAA tournament bid in 2011-12.
As he said, playing for his father provided a special perspective because his dad obviously knows him well personally, but his father also has a keen understanding of the younger McCallum's abilities on the basketball court.
Yet, at the end of the day, the two share a bond similar to most father-son relationships.
"Obviously that’s my father, even when he was coaching me," McCallum said. "It’s a father-son relationship. But there’s still the coaching side of him. He watches all of my games, always critiques everything I’m doing. It’s always good to have him on my side. He’s someone who knows the game and knows my game really well. But yeah, we talk every day, and we have a really close relationship still."
As for the Kings and McCallum, they're just trying to get better every day. Both have made progress throughout the year, and the rookie is willing to do whatever the team needs from him.
"I’m just trying to get better every day," McCallum said. "That’s Coach (Mike) Malone’s motto that he stresses every day to us. I’m just trying to be a true point guard and do whatever the team needs me to do—whether it’s play off the ball, defend, whatever it is, any little thing, I’m willing to do."
That's the mentality that got McCallum to the NBA. He's been using it to capitalize of late, stepping into the starting lineup for the injured Isaiah Thomas. It's also allowing him to steadily improve throughout the season, as he's averaging 6.8 points, 2.5 assists and 2.3 rebounds since the break.
Perhaps most importantly, that's the disposition that will keep McCallum in the NBA for a long time. While he's grateful to be in the league, he knows he'll only remain there through hard work.
"It’s truly a blessing to have the opportunity to be in the NBA." McCallum said. "This is where I want to be for a long time. I just continue to work hard and do everything I’ve done that’s got me to this point and take it to another level so I can stay and have a long, successful career."
Based on everything we've seen from him so far, it looks like the rookie is well on his way to doing just that.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and are accurate through games played on March 30.
Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand.
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