Growing up in Muncie looking for pickup basketball games anywhere he could, Ray McCallum sought out competition from an early age. He’d go to the Muncie Boys and Girls Club and the Muncie YMCA while also traveling outdoors to Heekin and McCulloch Parks.
“I just went wherever I could go to play,” McCallum said. “Where there was competition, I found it.”
Even at different times of the day, McCallum would find ways to hone his basketball skills. Instead of waiting for practice, McCallum created his own time for training and worked out early in the mornings while remaining on the court for the rest of the day. He said it wasn’t uncommon for him and his friends to get up as early as 5:30 a.m. and shoot hoops or even run a few miles before his day started.
“It wouldn't be unusual for me to be in the weight room early at eight o'clock in the morning and on the court from noon until 10-11 o'clock at night,” McCallum said.
While in high school, McCallum stood 5 feet, 9 inches tall and was continuously told he didn't have the athleticism and measurables to play at the collegiate level. However, McCallum said he was able to overcome challenges and stereotypes to reach success.
“I couldn't do this, I can’t do that — a lot of people doubted my ability, which was motivation for me,” McCallum said. “I just made sure that nobody outworked me.”
In the 1979 Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) Boys Basketball State Championship against Anderson High School, McCallum, then-Muncie Central senior guard, hurt his ankle. His coaching staff thought he had turned it. However, Rick Peckinpaugh, former Muncie Central assistant coach, said McCallum displayed much determination that day — which separated him as a competitor.
“He wasn’t going to sit out at all,” Peckinpaugh said. “He got up, and he came right back in to play, and that's just how competitive he was then.”
Al Brown, Ball State Men’s Basketball head coach from 1982-87, served as an assistant coach during McCallum’s recruitment and first three years with the Cardinals. Brown said Ball State’s coaching staff knew they needed McCallum as soon as they saw his winning traits on display at Muncie Central.
“He was somebody we just needed to recruit because he was a winner,” Brown said. “It was a joy to coach him as an assistant, as well as head coach, because he was a winner in every sense of the word. He just worked hard and loved the game and was a great competitor.”
Brown spent 38 years coaching NCAA Division I men’s and women’s college basketball. He won three straight Division I women’s national titles as an assistant coach for Tennessee from 1996-98. Like McCallum, Brown enjoyed competition and said it encouraged his longevity.
“I just love to compete, and it was a chance to [do just that].” Brown said. “The coaching part of it was being able to analyze your team and the opponent and call a timeout and come up with the right play at the right time.”
Brown said his love for the game inspired him to coach.
“I just wanted to teach the game of basketball the way I had been taught so that people who played for me could love the game as much as I did,” he said. “My main purpose was to give back to the game.”
After winning the 1978 and 1979 state titles at Muncie Central High School, McCallum played varsity all four years as a Cardinal. Finishing his career with 2,109 points, he graduated as Ball State and the Mid-American Conference’s all-time leading scorer. He led the Cardinals to the 1981 MAC Tournament title and their first-ever NCAA tournament berth.
“To have the opportunity to stay in my hometown and be a part of the rise of Ball State basketball and help lead a team to our first NCAA tournament, it just doesn't get any better than that,” McCallum said. “Right there in your hometown with friends and family and classmates … It was just a lot of fun and a great experience to just bring pride to our basketball program.”
Despite his accolades, though, McCallum kept Muncie at his forefront during his Cardinal tenure. He believes his success is a product of his community.
“I kind of started from the bottom … and achieved what I was able to achieve through that hard work,” McCallum said. “I think the sky's the limit and that I'm a product of that — hardworking just like the Muncie community, blue-collar.”
In 1983, McCallum won the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Award, which, until 2014, was given to the top collegiate basketball player in the country under 6 feet.
Peckinpaugh believes there are still a lot of people around who remember McCallum’s playing days at Muncie Central and then watching him at Ball State.
“It's got to be a really big lift for the Muncie community to see a kid like that,” Peckinpaugh said. “He was really humble, hardworking, and he was loved by everybody, so it's great for the community to see him honored that way.”
McCallum and Brown are integral in the history of Ball State Men’s Basketball. They instantly connected from their desire for competition and were inducted March 23 into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.