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Detroit’s Ray McCallum talks about winning Roundball Daily.com Horizon League Player of the Year

April 5, 2012 Leave a comment

By: Kels Dayton

It’s all coming together for Detroit point guard Ray McCallum Jr.

The 6-2 sophomore won the Roundball Daily.com Horizon League Player of the Year award Wednesday after a season in which he averaged 15.6 points, 4.5 boards and 3.9 assists per game and led the Titans to the Horizon League championship and their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1999.

Ray McCallum Jr. won the Roundball Daily.com Horizon League Player of the Year award Wednesday. (Mike DiNovo/US Presswire)

McCallum came up big when it mattered most in 2012.

Although his Titans (22-14, 11-7) finished three games back of top-seeded Valparaiso in the regular season, they thoroughly dominated the Crusaders on Valpo’s own court in the Horizon League title game.

McCallum led the way with 21 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals in that game,which may have been the deciding factor in his edging out Valparaiso forward Ryan Broekhoff to win the award. (McCallum received 44% of the vote, Broekhoff 42%). The Titans erased a 27-24 halftime deficit by massacring the Crusaders, 46-23 in the second half of their 70-50 win.

This is exactly what UDM fans had envisioned for McCallum when he signed with the school as a McDonald’s All-American two springs ago.

The point guard from Detroit Country Day received offers from some of the top programs in the country, visiting Oklahoma, Arizona, UCLA and Florida before deciding to stay home and play for his father Ray McCallum Sr. at local Detroit-Mercy.

We caught up with the star guard and asked him about winning the award, playing for his father, and what it means to succeed at home.

ROUNDBALL DAILY: First off Ray, congratulations on winning our Horizon League Player of the Year Award. What are your thoughts on winning this honor, especially as a sophomore?

RAY McCALLUM: Thank you. I’m just happy to win this award and happy that we were able to win the Horizon League championship and make the NCAA Tournament. At the start of the year this was our goal. Actually…it’s been out goal for two years. Unfortunately, my freshman year we came up short…but as a team we got together and we knew that this was what we wanted to do.

We had four seniors on this team and my job, being the point guard… I just wanted to do anything that I could to help my seniors and this team to be able to say that they went out with a ring and a championship.

RD: So how do you view individual awards, do you really think of them as just a team thing?

McCALLUM: Well of course I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. As I said at the beginning of the year, there’s no way that I would get this award without my teammates. If it wasn’t for all of their help then it wouldn’t be possible. It’s really them…they helped me out at times during the season when I might not be playing so well. They kept me upbeat. They kept me going in practice each and every day. I owe it all to my teammates and coaching staff as well.

McCallum could have played anywhere in the country, but he chose to stay home and play for his dad. (Mike DiNovo/US Presswire)

RD: What’s it like to play for your father?

McCALLUM: It’s a lot of fun. He gets the best out of me each and every day…in practice and in games. I’ve gotten a lot better in just two years playing under him and you know, he knows my game really well. So we have a really strong connection on the court. Anytime I’m not doing well, we’ll watch more film or we’ll be in the gym getting more shots up. It’s definitely tough…he pushes me, but he gets the best out of me and that’s what I wanted.

RD: Does he treat you any differently than everyone else on the team?

McCALLUM: I think he treats me tougher than anyone on the team. Of course… being his son, he’s gonna be hard on his son…but I’m also the point guard. I feel like the point guard is like the quarterback. You’ve gotta be on every night. You’ve got to get your teammates involved…you gotta play defense…you gotta score, and you gotta do all the little things to help your team win.

And be vocal. One thing’s for sure, he’s always on me about being vocal and being a leader. And of course he has to be tough on me in practice. He stresses to me how important it is being a point guard because he was a point guard himself. So he knows what it takes.

But it doesn’t bother me that he’s tough on me; I like it.

RD: Coming out of high school as a McDonald’s All-American, did you ever consider going anywhere else?

McCALLUM: Oh yeah. I was looking at four other schools and Detroit made my fifth. I actually took official visits to Oklahoma, UCLA, Arizona and Florida. I was really strongly considering all of those schools. I didn’t make my decision until like the last signing day in April, actually. It was definitely a tough process, but at the end of the day it came down to who I trust the most and who had my best interests [at heart]…and it came down to my father. I just couldn’t turn that down….to get the opportunity to stay home and learn from him and play in front of my family.

RD: What was it like with your father as you were going through that process? Was he kind of pushing you to play for him or did he really just stay out of it?

McCALLUM: Oh, he stayed out of it. He treated me just like a regular father-son…and he never pushed me either way. He maybe had like two talks with me about it. One was earlier in the year and then later in the year. He told me what he thought I could do here….and then basically let me make my own decision. He actually came on a couple of the visits I had to other schools, but he really left it up to me and gave me my space. But at the end of the day, I knew Detroit was where I wanted to go.

RD: What are your goals for the rest of your collegiate career? I know you’re only a sophomore…

McCALLUM: Well, my goals are to try and win the Horizon League championship again and get back to the NCAA Tournament and actually win some games. And to just keep doing what I’ve been doing and just get better each and every year.

RD: How tough was it to play Kansas in the first round of the tournament. Did you think they had that kind of a run in them, to make it to the national championship game?

McCALLUM: Yeah, Kansas was definitely a tough team…they have really good players at all positions. I think we battled with them early and then in the second half they just kind of took over. But their defense was….I thought they played really good defense. They were in front of you all game…put a lot of pressure on you, got in the lanes…with Robinson and Taylor and Withey and all those guys…it was definitely tough. Defense can win you games and I knew that once they beat us, if you looked at the bracket, they could make a run. I definitely didn’t have them in the national championship game…but they had a great team and they made an incredible run.

RD: Wait, you didn’t fill out a bracket did you?

McCALLUM: No, I didn’t fill one out…. I didn’t want to jinx us.

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Roundball Daily surveyed over 3,300 Division 1 basketball coaches and sports information directors in naming the National Player of the Year, Danny Abbott Unsung Hero Award, and the players of the year in each of the 31 conferences. Voting was conducted by email via www.surveymonkey.com.

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Ohio State guard Aaron Craft wins Roundball Daily.com Danny Abbott Unsung Hero Award

April 5, 2012 Leave a comment

By: Kels Dayton

Of all of the awards we have just bestowed on some of the best collegiate basketball players in the nation, this is our favorite. The Danny Abbott Unsung Hero Award was voted on in a survey of over 3,300 college basketball coaches and sports information directors from across Division 1. It is given to the player who most impacted his team’s performance this season, even if his play was not dramatically reflected in the box score.

Danny Abbott was the man. He was an unbelievable athlete, hilarious personality, and at times an unwitting pain in the neck. He could make you laugh for 4 hours straight by saying the same thing over and over. There was never a dull moment when you were around him. Danny’s spirit embodied perseverance, youthful exuberance, and an insatiable enthusiasm for life that touched everyone within 250 feet of him. Abbott died in 2001 at the age of 16, but he could not have left a more lasting memory had he lived 120 years.

Aaron Craft is the winner of the 2012 Danny Abbott Unsung Hero Award. (AP Photo)

With Danny’s spirit in mind, Roundball Daily.com is proud to announce that the winner of the inaugural Danny Abbott Unsung Hero Award is Ohio State University point guard Aaron Craft.

Craft is the perfect candidate for what this award stands for. He averaged 8.8 points and 4.6 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game this season, but his impact on the Buckeyes could not be measured merely by those statistics.

The 6-2 sophomore was perhaps the nation’s best defensive point guard, hounding opponents with a non-stop, in-your-shorts relentlessness that embodies the passion Abbott had.

New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist John DeShazer described Craft as “the itch that can’t be scratched, the faucet with the never-ending drip, and the gnat that buzzes around your ear no matter how many times it’s the target of a swat.”

“He’s one of the best lead guards in the nation,” said Kansas head coach Bill Self.

Craft was possibly Ohio State’s most important player as he led the Buckeyes to a 31-8 record and an appearance in the Final Four. Perhaps most fitting is the fact that Aaron’s personality reflects Danny’s, as evidenced in this piece by Sports Illustrated. His father John Craft recalls Aaron playing in the driveway with former Ohio State guard Jon Diebler on the night before a big tournament in his freshman year of high school. (Diebler was getting ready to go off to Ohio State at the time).

“It was 2 a.m., and they were drenched in sweat, going at it as hard as they could go,” John Craft said. “I said Aaron, you’ve got to get up early tomorrow and play, and he said `I know, I’ll be ready.’ It reminded me of when he was in fourth or fifth grade – he was not going to back down, and he was out there trying to prove himself.”

“Both boys and my daughter just work relentlessly,” John Craft said. “If they had to sit out and not do something for two days, they would go stir crazy.”

Nothing could describe Abbott more accurately. And that’s one of the reasons that we at Roundball Daily.com are honored to present the Buckeye point guard with this award.

Craft garnered 39.3% of the vote, and edged out Purdue senior forward Robbie Hummel, who earned 33.5%. Louisville junior Peyton Siva picked up 15% of the vote, while Kansas junior guard Elijah Johnson came in at 5.3%.

Other top responses included Missouri senior guard Kim English, Long Beach State senior guard Casper Ware, Colorado State junior forward Pierce Hornung and Syracuse senior guard Scoop Jardine.

Congratulations to Aaron on an outstanding season and for winning the inagural Danny Abbott Unsung Hero Award.

Danny would be proud, although he’d never stop talking about it.

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Award voting was conducted and votes tabulated by email via www.surveymonkey.com.

Exclusive Interview: Murray State head coach Steve Prohm talks pressure, expectations, going undefeated, and the Final Four

January 24, 2012 2 comments

 

 

 

By: Kels Dayton

Murray State is the toast of the college basketball world these days. At 20-0 and ranked ninth in the current ESPN/USA Today poll, the Racers have survived as the nation’s last undefeated team. In the process, first-year head coach Steve Prohm has become one of six coaches in NCAA history to begin his career with 20 or more consecutive wins. It seems as though every media outlet in the nation wants a piece of the Murray State boss. Here at Roundball Daily, we got him. Coach Prohm talks about expectations, going undefeated, and yes, the Final Four.

ROUNDBALL DAILY: You guys are 20-0, No. 9 in the ESPN/USA Today Poll…did you think this was possible when you took the job?

Steve Prohm: (Laughs.) Everybody asks that. I thought we had a good team, but—you know, you probably never dream this scenario. You never dream about being undefeated. But we have a great group of upper classmen that have really exemplified great leadership and toughness, and I knew if those guys really bought in and played together that we had a chance to be very good.

First-year coach Steve Prohm has led the Racers to a school-record 20-0 start. (Spruce Derden/US Presswire)

RD: Are you impressed with just how well you’ve played?

PROHM: Well…you know, we’ve got some very good players. Sometimes people can overlook some mid-majors, but you know, Isaiah Cannan, Ivan Aska, Donte Poole and Jewuan Long, Ed Daniel, those guys are our starters… they’re great basketball players and we’ve also got great depth with Latreze Mushatt, Zay Jackson and Stacy Wilson. So I think we have a lot of talented players. We’ve just got a good basketball team, and that’s why we’re successful right now.

RD: How have you handled all of the extra attention that comes with being undefeated?

PROHM: We just try to be humble and handle everything with great humility. I just talk to our guys about the next thing at hand, and that’s the next game or the next practice, and [tell them] not to get caught up in everything outside–all the distractions. Just focus on the next task at hand. If you can do that and you can stay grounded, special things will continue to come your way.

RD: Do you want to go undefeated? Some coaches say that a loss can take the pressure off and allow your team to re-focus. What do you think about that?

PROHM: (Laughs). No, we want to win every game. Our guys want to win…our coaching staff wants to win. We don’t want to lose. Ever.

RD: (Laughing) Yeah, that’s what we thought. 

Murray State owns three victories over top-35 ranked opponents, including an impressive 76-72 win at Memphis. (Bright House Sports)

RD: Was beating Memphis early in the season big for your team’s confidence?

PROHM: Well, our guys went down there thinking we could win the basketball game. And that was our plan. People don’t realize…we were up 12 in both halves. We were up 10 or 11 with a minute to go. And that’s Memphis’ only home loss this year. So, the way our guys carry themselves and the way that they compete and work, we believe that we can play with anybody.

RD: If you were to win the Ohio Valley Conference regular season championship and then lose in the conference tournament, do you think your team has done enough to earn an at large bid?

PROHM: Yeah, I think we’ve done enough. You know, you’ve got to continue to play well and win games… but I think without any question that with our nonconference resume and what we’ve been able to do up until this point, we are deserving of an at-large bid.

RD: You guys upset Vanderbilt in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2010. Does winning that game have any impact on this year’s team? Does it give your guys confidence that they can get back to the NCAAs and win a couple of games?

PROHM: Yeah, I think it does because all five of our starters were on that team that beat Vanderbilt. They were freshmen and sophomores and now they’re juniors and seniors. So I think they believe they can beat anybody in the country, especially on a neutral site.

RD: Being a small program…and I know you guys almost beat Butler in the second round in 2010…but what are your thoughts on what Butler has done over the past two years? Do you use what they’ve done as motivation for your team?

PROHM: We don’t necessarily use what they’ve accomplished as motivation…our guys see [what they’ve done], so they understand that it is possible if you sell out on the defensive end, if you play unselfish, and you buy in and try to max-out your role within the team.

But I think Coach Stevens has done an unbelievable job in his short time at Butler, playing for two national championships. Butler’s always had a very good basketball program, but he’s almost taken them to another level, so it is something that I look at. Especially the way he carries himself and the way he deals with his program.

RD: Do you think your team believes it can get to a Final Four?

PROHM: I think our guys believe that they can do anything right now. And that’s not a cockiness…I just think it’s a togetherness, a brotherhood…I think it’s a commitment to one another and a belief in each other.

RD: Why do you think that smaller, lower-budget programs have been able to compete so well with the big-name, big-money programs over the past few years?

Isaiah Canaan has been outstanding for the Racers this season, leading the team with 18.7 points and 4 assists per game. (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

PROHM: Well, there are just so many good basketball players out there. And then, you know, a lot of the great players sometimes will leave early for the NBA draft— and that helps, but I just think there’s a lot of good basketball players out there. I mean, Isaiah Canaan is as good a guard as there is in the country and he visited Arkansas State, Tulane, and us. So if you do your homework from a recruiting standpoint and you evaluate the right way, you’re going to be able to get very good players in your program.

But you know the one thing for us at Murray State is that we’ve been good for 60 years. Murray State has as good a basketball program as there is in the country when you look at tradition, facilities, championships, and what we’ve been able to do over the last 50 or 60 years.

RD: Speaking of Isaiah, do you think he deserves more recognition, because I know he wasn’t named as a Wooden Award finalist…?

PROHM: I didn’t know…did they already come out with the finalists for that?

RD: Yeah, they announced the finalists last week, and he didn’t make the list.

PROHM: Yeah, I mean well, hopefully that’s something he can put himself in position for next year. But when you look at what he’s doing and what he’s done for us in the biggest games of the year, he’s as good a player as there is in the country. He’s a special, special talent, he’s a special kid, and he’s got a bright, bright future.

RD: Is he the leader of this team?

PROHM: Yeah, he’s our leader. You know, everybody’s got their own role, but I think on the offensive end, he’s what makes our team go. He’s had a terrific season for us.

RD: What will [forward] Ivan Aska’s return do for your team? (Ed’s note: Aska missed six games with a broken hand.)

The Racers have designs on big things this season. (AP Photo)

PROHM: Well, he provides us with another post presence who can score and rebound around the basket and it certainly provides us with more leadership out on the floor…and also more toughness. This is his second year, and he’s been through it so…and also it provides more depth for us.

RD: What’s the biggest thing you’ve taken from [former Murray State head coach] Billy Kennedy?

PROHM: I think having a balance in your life…having a strong faith and staying even keel with everything that you do.

RD: In terms of basketball, do you mirror his style?

PROHM: For the most part, yes, definitely. First and foremost, we want to be very good defensively. We want to be a defensive rebounding and toughness-type group. Offensively we want to attack in transition. We’ve got really good guards. But in terms of the core of our program, our intangibles, and the values of our program, it’s basically identical.

RD: What would make this season successful from this point on?

PROHM: Success for us is to win a conference championship, get into the NCAA Tournament and then play the best we possibly can and just see where that puts us.

RD: Thanks a lot, coach.

PROHM: You got it.