Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 3/13/12
One hug spoke louder than the PA system ever could. A pair of smiles shouted louder than the hug. And four eyes finally stopped to look around, soaking in the growing celebration around them. After the Detroit Titans walloped Valparaiso last week to lock up their first Horizon League title and NCAA tournament berth since 1999, point guard Ray McCallum Jr. found his coach, Ray McCallum Sr., and hugged him. As the two walked off the court, arm in arm, tightly locked in a triumphant embrace, they felt a cocktail of emotions: joy, relief, a bit of trepidation and, most of all, vindication. Vindicated from perceived ulterior motives. Vindicated from the trappings of obscurity. And, above all, vindicated from a decision that was one of the toughest Ray Jr. has had to make one that was scrutinized by the media and fans everywhere. For the first time in Ray Jr.'s short career, he's playing in the NCAA tournament. To compound the joy, UCLA, Arizona and Oklahoma, three of the four schools that made him official offers, will be at home this week, watching him play. Ray Jr. said no to those three big-time programs, as well as Florida, two years ago, choosing to stay home to play for his father, Ray Sr., at the University of Detroit. Ray Jr.'s choice initially brought the father-son tandem some unwanted attention and serious criticism. "It was hard," Ray Jr. said. "I'm sure some people felt like I picked the University of Detroit just so I could play for my dad." Some even said that Ray Sr. might have forced the decision a rumor he says is patently false. "I wanted him to have a normal recruitment," said Ray Sr., a former Ball State standout who had a brief NBA career in the early 1980s. "I was coaching at the time, but his mother went with him on all his visits. She developed great relationships with all the coaches and stressed the importance of his decision. "He was working like a lot of guys to become a high-major player, to go to a national program. When you see a kid work hard like that, who just gets it and who is that dedicated, you understand the type of player he could become. "That's why I thought it was important to let him go through the process, meet all the coaches, develop relationships and find out about schools. I wanted him to try and figure out what he wanted in a basketball program." Ray Jr. didn't want to go to the desert. Norman, Okla., wasn't his preferred destination either. And Florida had a logjam of guard talent on its roster at the time. That left UCLA, and anyone who says the ghost of John Wooden doesn't haunt Westwood like a children's cartoon has never been to UCLA. Ray Jr. professed his respect for those other programs and said he gave them all serious consideration, but in the end, they weren't for him. "A lot of people looked at me like, 'Why are you going to U of D? I understand your dad is there, which is good and cool and all, but why would you want to go there when you could go somewhere where you know you'll play on TV every night and you know you'll be playing in the NCAA tournament?' Ray Jr. said. "My decision was really, you know, so I could come here and not only make a name for myself, but make a name for the university, and help my father out, too. "He's been my coach my whole life. He's taught me everything I learned, so why would you not want to go out and help your family, you know. "So that's what it was really all about." How a McDonalds High School All-American, a Parade All-American and a player who was ranked 43rd in the nation by Scout.com ended up at Detroit. And a big reason why the 15th-seeded Titans (22-13) will be playing No. 2 seed Kansas (27-6) in the Midwest region Friday night in Omaha, Neb. Ray Jr., the Titans' star point guard, did everything short of financing a Super Bowl ad to put Detroit on the map in recent weeks. Saving it like the last bite of steak, he averaged 19.75 points, 5.25 rebounds, four assists and 2.5 steals in the Horizon League tournament and was named the tourney's MVP. He had with 21 points, six rebounds, three assists and four steals in the championship game, a 70-50 victory on Valparaiso's home floor. Midway through the second half, with the game still in doubt, Ray Jr. appeared to mature beyond his sophomore status. He shouted at his team, screamed at them, as he pounded the ball off the floor. If he wasn't making a point, then he was directing unfiltered anger at the Crusader painted on center court. He had just hit a hanging jumper and a free throw on the previous trip, and now he was looking for a knockout punch, an exposed jaw in the Valparaiso attack. He worked the ball around the floor, then found a slashing Eli Holman for a rim-rattling slam dunk to put Detroit up by three a lead it wouldn't relinquish. "I have no idea what I said out there," he said. "But I was talking a lot, trying to get my teammates fired up, keeping me fired up. Whatever I said, it must have worked." Then came the hug, the arm-and-arm walk off the court, the celebration. The father and son had achieved what they set out to do: earn a spot in the NCAA tournament together. They claim it doesn't hold any redemptive value, but they both smile when they answer the question a shared reaction to what was once a shared problem.
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