This story appeared in the Greater Detroit edition of the December ESPN RISE Magazine.
Ray McCallum isn't shy about telling people how good Madison Williams is at basketball. And one key element is really all they need to know.
"Maddy can dunk," McCallum says. "What else can you ask for? That says it all."
It was actually a secret for a while. Only a select few of her Detroit Country Day (Beverly Hills, Mich.) teammates -- and McCallum -- knew the 6-foot-7 Williams could fly above the rim. Last year, she let girls' basketball coach Frank Orlando in on the surprise.
"One day toward the end of practice, I was kind of kidding around with her and I said, 'Madison, you can't dunk,'" Orlando recalls. "So I challenged her. I said that if she could dunk, we wouldn't run any sprints at the end of the practice. So she took the ball, jumped from the free-throw line and jammed it like a pro."
Williams didn't mind showing off her hidden talent during the closed-door practice, but she's never done it in a game.
"I've never had that urge to dunk on someone and embarrass them," she says. But McCallum is itching for her to give it a shot. "I want her to dunk more," he says. "I'm going to push her every day."
You can count on that. At Detroit Country Day, McCallum's boys' team and Williams' girls' team are extremely competitive with each other. But they're also among the most tight-knit and successful clubs in Michigan.
Rated the nation's No. 100 player in the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100, Williams is a Michigan State-bound senior center whose recruiting stock soared after a remarkable effort in last year's Class B state title game triumph -- 11 points, 11 rebounds and 11 blocks. McCallum, the son of University of Detroit head coach Ray McCallum Sr., is the nation's No. 36 recruit in the ESPNU 100 and is being courted by numerous Division I programs -- including his dad's school.
The 6-foot-2 senior point guard came to the Yellow Jackets from Bloomington North in Indiana after his father left his assistant coaching gig with the Hoosiers to accept the head coaching position at Detroit.
Williams heard plenty of hype about McCallum before he arrived, and it didn't take him long to live up to it. "When I heard we were getting this new kid, I heard about how good he was," she says. "When he got here, it was so true."
You may have noticed Williams says "we" in reference to the boys' basketball team. McCallum wasn't coming to play for the girls' team, after all. But the boys' and girls' players don't think of their respective squads as separate entities; they look at the two programs as one.
"We don't have big student crowds, but you can almost always guarantee you'll see eight or 10 kids from the boys' team at the girls' game," says boys' basketball coach Kurt Keener. "Their hopes and dreams are the same, and it's not uncommon to see them working out together."
McCallum and Williams got to know each other last season as their teams shared space in the weight room during lifting sessions and space on the court during open gyms.
"She's one of my best friends now," McCallum says. "We're all real close with the girls' team. It's a close family. They've won back-to-back state championships, so we have a respect for them. What [Williams] did in the state championship game last year was unreal."
McCallum refers to the triple-double the way many others do -- as an example of Williams' dominance. In the game, which was against Grand Rapids C.C., Williams got off to a tough start. "She actually told a reporter that she felt she was letting the team down," Orlando says. "It inspired her to raise her game to another level."
Williams says she wasn't even the best player on the floor that night and defers credit for the team's 50-40 win to former teammate and current Illinois freshman Amber Moore. But it's hard to mention Williams' abilities without referencing the game, and vice versa. <,/p>
"I think she had all 11 of her blocked shots in the fourth quarter," Keener says. "Both Ray and Madison are intense, intense competitors. They just love to win. Or maybe they both hate to lose."
When McCallum arrived at Detroit Country Day, he immediately flashed that intensity in addition to his natural talent.
"It was clear right away that he would be our starter (at the point)," Keener says. "I was impressed with his ability to control the game, to run and deliver the ball without having an absolute clue what our offense was. I was blown away by his physical tools."
McCallum averaged 16.9 points and 5.3 assists per game last winter, helping the Yellow Jackets advance to the Class B state quarterfinals.
"He's just got so much athleticism," Williams says. "But he's very humble. He does what he has to do, and he doesn't talk about it."
Williams is a similarly grounded student-athlete. "She's very loyal to the school and to the team," Orlando says. "She's one of the kindest players I have coached in my 42 years here."
Williams and McCallum have a lot in common, but one way they differ is in their future goals. Williams chose Michigan State less for its basketball program and more for its academics because she hopes to become a doctor. McCallum, who had not made a college decision at press time, has a different mindset. For him, college is a stepping stone for the pros. "My goal is to make it to the NBA," he says.
But before he achieves that dream, he has two short-term goals. The first is to win a state title. The second is to get Williams to dunk in a game. And she seems to be slowly coming around to the idea.
"Maybe if I get a fast break or something, I'll do it," Williams says. "I'll do it for the crowd."
No doubt McCallum will be in the stands cheering her on.