During the spring signing period, college basketball programs around the country try as they might to secure the services of the last remaining recruits eligible for the following fall. More often than not, top-ranked prospects are already committed by the time spring rolls around, but when they're not, it's not unusual for a powerhouse program to enter the fold looking for an impact player to replace early entrants to the NBA. Mid-major programs rarely land the high school seniors with a bunch of stars next to their names, especially in the spring when players they have tailed all of a sudden get looks from the BCS ranks.
Last season, however, mid-majors pulled a major coup during the spring signing season. Both ranked in the Rivals.com Top 50 for the Class of 2010, Trey Zeigler and Ray McCallum Jr. opted to spurn the interests of high majors in favor of life at the mid-major level. The catch: both would be playing for their fathers. Zeigler's dad, Ernie Zeigler, was the head coach at Central Michigan, while the senior McCallum occupied the same position at Detroit. Naturally, the uniqueness of their decisions led to a lot of national attention for both programs in the off-season, causing fans in the Horizon League and Mid-American Conference to wonder if a new era of dominance was about to arrive for Detroit and CMU, respectively.
Note: Bumped To Front PageWell, after their inaugural run in the college ranks, neither player led his team to the top of the standings. In the Horizon League, Detroit was never in a championship race that featured four teams (Butler, Cleveland State, Milwaukee, and Valparaiso), and Central Michigan struggled to repeat as leaders of the perpetually weak MAC West. Individually, though, both players occupied major roles on their respective squads and showcased why they have the potential to be dominating players in the years to come. Though a strict comparison is not entirely fair as McCallum is a point guard and Zeigler primarily operates on the wing, here we take a look at the seasons they had in tandem due to the nature of their recruitment and situations.
From the start of the season, the freshman phenoms were starters on teams searching for identities. McCallum jumped in as the floor general for the Titans, utilizing his athleticism and court vision to help steer the team's up-tempo attack. Overall, he played in 81.9% of the team's available minutes, and he used all of that playing time to accumulate impressive per game averages of 13.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 4.8 assists. Those figures were enough for the 6-foot-1 guard to earn the league's Newcomer of the Year award as well as a spot on the All-League Second Team.
Central Michigan, meanwhile, lost a number of senior contributors from the year before, so there was reason to believe Zeigler would become the focal point of the offense. He dutifully fulfilled that role in 2010-11 on his way to leading the team in points (16.3) and assists per game (2.2). He also chipped in 5.4 rebounds per contest, ranking second. For a 6-foot-5 freshman, such averages were impressive, and the MAC voters agreed. Zeigler was voted to the conference's All-Freshman team, though he missed out on the top newcomer honor to Buffalo's Javon McCrea.
When we look a bit closer at the years had by McCallum and Zeigler, it's no wonder the former brought home a few more honors. The graph below represents their Offensive Ratings, per StatSheet.com.
At 109.5, McCallum jumps way ahead of Zeigler's 89.0 rating. Though far from a perfect measure of a player's impact, this metric at the very least gives us an idea of the productivity of each player. To put these numbers in perspective, Zeigler's figure is so low that it doesn't even register among the top 65 in the MAC on StatSheet.com. McCallum's rating was good enough for 20th in the Horizon League. What's particularly troubling about this scenario is that Zeigler was continuously involved on more possessions than McCallum, as measured by Possession Percentage.
Throughout the year, Zeigler accounted for a whopping 31.9% of CMU's possessions. That puts him at 14th in the entire country in terms of usage, with no other freshman ranking higher. In fact, the only other underclassman with a higher usage rate was Colorado's Alec Burks, a sophomore who looks to be on his way to the NBA this summer. Last year's top freshman by usage was Kentucky's DeMarcus Cousins, and the year before that it was Memphis' Tyreke Evans. Aside from the fact that both of those players played for John Calipari, they were also one-and-doners who have fared well in the NBA thus far (ironically, for the same team). On the surface, that's some good company for Zeigler to be among. However, there's a reason that McCallum's name - and not Zeigler's - is among those projected as a 2012 draft pick by DraftExpress.com. Quite simply, Zeigler gets his production by taking a lot of shots, often to the detriment of the team game. These differences are heightened further when looking at the players' shooting percentages.
Generally, anything in the above visual in red is considering poor, while green moves toward good or great. As we can see, McCallum shoots a lot better than Zeigler across the board. He also has an impressive Free Throw Rate for a freshman point guard. Zeigler's no slouch when it comes to getting to the line, but when he gets there he's only hitting just a bit more than half of his attempts. With his physique and skillset, it's also troubling that he's only finishing 40.8% of his two-point attempts. Zeigler took a whopping 484 field goal attempts in 2010-11, a figure so high for a freshman that it's only trumped by future lottery picks Harrison Barnes (497) and Brandon Knight (513), and those guys played six or seven more games than the young Chippewa.
Perhaps the case could be made that Central Michigan simply didn't have other players worthy of using as many possessions as Zeigler. After all, the 'Chips had an effective field goal percentage of 43.2% as a team, good for 337th in all of Division I. Whatever the case, Number 0 had the keys to the car in 2010-11, and he proceeded to drive it like it was a brand new Porsche, when in fact it was more like an old, banged up Saturn. In other words, Zeigler may be featured like his elite brethren, but he certainly hasn't performed like them.
McCallum had the far more efficient season of the two players; consequently, he was a far more effective player for his team. At this point, Detroit also has the better pieces around its elite recruit, a factor which must not go unnoticed when evaluating Zeigler's situation in Mount Pleasant. That point becomes all the more salient when one considers Detroit thumped Central Michigan by a final score of 75-49 in December - and that was in Central's gym!
Though their stories are far from written, McCallum has both the individual and team edge at this point in their young careers. While they never asked to be grouped as a duo, their legacy as Michigan-based recruits opting to play for fathers at Michigan-based mid-majors nonetheless binds them together. Zeigler has some catching up to do to match McCallum's on-court production, but it should certainly be a fun and exciting ride to witness their development as mid-major stars in the making.