Playing his 100th Division I game on Sunday (NZT) Callum McRae posted a double-double of 15 points and 14 rebounds despite Sacramento State University going down 72-65 at Santa Clara. It’s the seventh time in eight games this season he has posted double figures in points or rebounds.
Despite playing his 100th NCAA game it feels as if the collegiate career of McRae has flown under the radar somewhat – if dipping under the radar is possible for someone standing 7’1” tall!
Having spent four years at the University of California Riverside the former Manawatu and Palmerston North Boys High School standout has reunited with coach David Patrick at Sacramento State for the current 2022-23 collegiate campaign.
Coach Patrick was largely responsible for taking McRae to Riverside back in 2018 after his successful youth career. McRae repaid the faith by playing 92 games for the Highlanders over four years although he was forced to redshirt the 2020-21 year due to injury.
That was a particularly trying period for McRae given the timing of the injury.
“The injury was a huge challenge but it was compounded because Covid just hit too. I had great people around me to support me but not being able to be around my family was tough.”
McRae bounced back in style in the 2021-22 season scoring a career best 32 points against UC Santa Barbara and averaging 10.8 points and 7.9 rebounds across 28 games – 27 as a starter. His 6.1 defensive rebounds per game placed him 42nd amongst all men’s Division I players in that statistical category. Given there are over 5,000 male Division I players a 42nd placing is rather impressive!
Despite the successes of last season when the opportunity to reunite with Patrick presented itself McRae had little hesitation in jumping on board.
“Coach Patrick is a great coach and better person but it came down to trust. I could’ve gone to a lot of places for my last year but playing, and having a significant role, was important to me and I knew I could trust him to have my best interests at heart.”
Eight games into the new season and the 100th NCAA Division I appearance has rolled around. McRae was aware that the major milestone was imminent but unsure of exactly when.
“Being in college for so long I knew it was coming up. I’m just happy to have made it this far, I had a couple injuries that almost forced me to stop playing so I am very thankful to be able to be on the court still and do what I love.
Perhaps even more significantly, barring injury, he will soon complete the double of 100 NCAA Division I appearances and 1,000 points and move into elite company – the double has only been achieved previously by Kirk Penney, Tai Webster and Craig Bradshaw.
To date he has 940 points – averaging 10.9 points per game (and 9.6 rebounds) – the 1,000 points mark looks likely to be achieved around the turn of the year.
Only fourteen New Zealand men have racked up 100 Division I appearances and amongst them are Dan Fotu (126 games for St Mary’s College, California) and Sam Waardenburg (118 games for the University of Miami).
The pair were involved in the two most memorable events in McRae’s junior career, both taking place in 2016.
Waardenburg and Fotu were opponents in “That Final” – the 2016 Secondary Schools Boys National Final, one of the most spectacular championship games witnessed in recent years.
Scoring 33 points and snaring 17 rebounds McRae dragged Palmerston North Boys High back from a massive 60-35 half-time deficit to take the lead in the fourth quarter.
Had it not been for the miraculous Rangitoto buzzer beater, courtesy of Cameron Stone’s miraculous shot, the championship would have gone the way of Palmy North Boys.
Later that year, this time playing with Fotu and Waardenburg, McRae enjoyed tremendous success at the FIBA U18 Oceania Championships in Fiji where the New Zealand team pulled off a stunning 57-51 victory against Australia in the final – the win qualifying the Junior Tall Blacks for the U19 World Cup the following year.
McRae still has vivid memories of both events.
“After all these years that Rangitoto game is always bought up and still hurts a little but the joy of beating Australia helps a little. All I remember was the atmosphere of the game with my school behind us and the haka the boys did for us and then to Rangi. Even though we lost I was proud of that and the fight to come back after being down so much.
“I still talk with a few of the boys every now and again and have even played with and against some here in college. That year group has been successful and I’m happy to see everyone succeeding and continuing on their paths.”
That 2016 U18 New Zealand team have gone on to achieve big things in the game. In addition to Waardenburg and Fotu, Taki Fahrensohn, Isaac Letoa, Quinn Clinton and the Cameron brothers Tobias and Flynn have played Division I basketball while Fotu, Letoa, Fahrensohn, Flynn Cameron and Taane Samuel, who was also on the team in Fiji, have gone on to play for the Tall Blacks.
Becoming the sixth member of the “Class of 2016” to gain senior international recognition would be special for McRae.
“I’d love to – playing for your country is an honour so if I ever have that opportunity I’d take it.”
More pressing are the needs of Coach Patrick and the Sacramento State Hornets team as they strive to make an impression in the Big Sky Conference and beyond.
“I want to make my first NCAA tournament. Doing what I can to make that happen is priority number one and hopefully that will lead me to continuing my career professionally and becoming the best player I can be.”
Whether he gets to the Big Dance or not McRae will have plenty of good memories to reflect on when his college career concludes.
“Most of my highlights come from off the court. I’m lucky to have met some great people while being over here and have created lifelong friends. However beating Nebraska by a lot and Arizona state on the buzzer were great highlights too.
“I appreciate all the coaches and people who have helped me get to where I am today.”
One of those to help McRae along his journey is his former Palmerston North Boys High Head Coach Miles Pearce. The former Tall Black is impressed with what he has seen.
“Cal has achieved so much in his career and it’s really only just beginning. He’s been a starter every year of his college career and improved his game every step of the way.
“I’m so proud of him and his accomplishments and everything he’s worked for. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.”
For now the focus for McRae is the present rather than the future.
Studying for a Master’s Degree in Recreational Therapy and ensuring the Hornets have a successful season are the main priorities for the big Kiwi.
The full list of centurions below includes former Hornet Izayah Le’afa the current New Zealand Breakers guard.
100+ Men’s NCAA Division I Appearances/Starts (*Currently playing #Playing
a fifth year)
|133/121||Rob Loe (University of St Louis, 2010-14)|
|131/61||Sam Timmins (University of Washington 2016-20)|
|127/106||Jack Salt (University of Virginia, 2014-19)|
|127/92||Kirk Penney (University of Wisconsin, 1999-2003)|
|127/83||Tai Webster (University of Nebraska, 2013-17)|
|126/47||Dan Fotu (St Mary’s College, 2018-22)|
|125/103||Mark Dickel (UNLV, 1996-2000)|
|123/104||Craig Bradshaw (Winthrop University, 2003-7)|
|120/83||Tom Vodanovich (James Maddison University, 2013-17)|
|118/69||Sam Waardenburg (University of Miami, 2016-22)|
|117/108||Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa (Sacramento State, 2016-20)|
|115/31||Matt Freeman (Oklahoma, 2016-19, UC Santa Barbara, 19-20)|
|119/24||*#Tobias Cameron (Abilene Christian University, 2017-present)|
|101/10||Rory Fannon (Utah Valley University, 2007-12)|