April 15, 2010 9:54:00 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
CALEDONIA -- The lesson was devastating.
Like any other senior, Rickey McCollum Jr. wanted to make a mark in his final year in high school.
Averaging nearly 30 points a game and with his Caledonia High School boys basketball team off to a 6-2 start, McCollum and the Confederates were on track to make things happen in the 2009-10 season.
But in December McCollum was one of four players who was declared academically ineligible to participate for the rest of the season.
"It hurt," McCollum said. "I thought we were going to go far."
McCollum didn''t allow his mistake to overshadow his potential. He re-focused on his schoolwork and is in position to graduate next month.
His hard work also has earned him another chance to play basketball.
Last week, McCollum signed a national letter of intent to play for the East Mississippi Community College men''s basketball team. It was an extremely satisfying moment for the 5-foot-9, 145-pound guard, who admitted he didn''t think it was going to happen.
"I thought I had lost (my chance)," McCollum said. "I learned from my mistakes and know I have to work harder. It will catch up with you if you don''t."
McCollum was averaging just under 30 points per game to go with 5.5 assists, 3.0 rebounds, and 4.0 steals per game before he was forced to sit and watch the rest of the season.
He said he stayed in contact with EMCC assistant coach Jeremy Shulman and continued to run and to play basketball to stay in shape. Two weeks ago, he thought he did well at a tryout in Scooba, but he still wasn''t sure if he had made a big enough of an impression to earn a chance to get a scholarship.
"The coaches told me they would give me a call to let me know what they decided," McCollum said. "I tried to relax myself (while waiting for the phone call), but it wasn''t easy. It was always on my mind."
Caledonia coach Josh Scott felt his team could have "made some noise" if it had all of its players for the entire season. Scott said McCollum could have walked away and wished for the team to lose, but he said he stuck with the program.
"I was impressed he realized he still could realize his other goals and that this didn''t end his world," Scott said. "He stayed involved in the classroom and got the problems he had taken care of."
Scott credits Rickey''s father, Rickey Sr., for being active in his son''s academic progress. He said McCollum Jr. has learned from the experience, and that he hopes others will understand they have to take care of their academics if they want to play sports.
"I consider it a credit to Rickey that they would still look at him, and I consider it a credit to (coach Mark White) that he didn''t write him off," Scott said. "I think he was a special caliber athlete here. ... I still think sometimes you get the idea they need me too much, and this is a real-life lesson that the world doesn''t revolve around me. No matter what a special role I play, if I don''t keep my end of the bargain, this is what happened. That was critical for everyone in our locker room and in our school to see (academics) has to come first."
Scott feels McCollum has "four-year potential." He knows there are bound to be doubters who believe McCollum''s size will prevent him from doing well in college. But he said McCollum''s skills on the court should help him make the transition. He also said the two years at EMCC will help McCollum solidify his grades and ensure he is grounded and ready to take the next step.
White said it is unusual for student-athletes to earn scholarships after missing significant parts of their senior seasons. He said he and Shulman knew of McCollum last year. He said they followed McCollum''s progress in the summer with an Amateur Athletic Association Union team and then in the first part of the 2009-10 season.
Without a chance to evaluate McCollum late in the season, White said he asked McCollum to come to Scooba for a tryout with other recruits against his players. He said he was impressed with what he saw.
"Rickey had improved so much from the spring in AAU that we just couldn''t believe it," White said. "He definitely earned the right to be rewarded with a basketball scholarship in our program."
White isn''t concerned about McCollum''s size because he said he has long arms and that he plays "bigger than he is." He said McCollum can shoot from 3-point range, has a good mid-range game and quickness, and can play defense.
Like Scott, White credited Rickey''s father for staying involved. He feels the lesson McCollum Jr. learned to get to this point has made an impression and will help him remain focused at EMCC.
"Rickey is a pretty sharp kid, and I think he has really learned his lesson," White said. "His dad is a huge part of Rickey''s life and setting an example for him. We know if we ever have any problems with Rickey that all we have to do is make one phone call to his dad and he will get him straight."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.