If you grew up in the Indiana area, the chances are that you know the name, DJ McCall, now of the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. Having gone to high school at Concordia Lutheran in the Fort Wayne area, McCall was a juggernaut on the hardwood, leaving behind high stat numbers of 1,050 points and 419 rebounds throughout his career there.
A two-time All-Summit Athletic Conference selection along with being named to the prestigious Indiana All-Star Team during his final season, the future looked bright for DJ as colleges continued to circle.
DJ preaches education, finishing out his scholastic career at Concordia with an Academic Honors Diploma.
“When I played in high school, I had a dream of a full-ride scholarship. I had a goal to play at the D1 level because I knew I would have the opportunity to play on TV sometimes and compete against some high-level competition.”
This academic mentality then saw DJ spend five years at his chosen college of IUPUI. DJ graduated in 2019 and was selected to the Horizon League’s Academic Honor Roll both semesters along with the IUPUI Academic Advisor’s List (3.0 GPA or better) for the fall semester according to iupuijags.com.
While taking to the academic side of college like a duck to water, DJ found his transition into the next level of basketball trickier to navigate, having been thrown a curveball right off the bat.
“Before my senior year of high school, I visited IUPUI, and it felt like the right fit, so I ended up going there. The coach that initially recruited me got let go before I even got to the campus, and the coach that got hired call me to let me know he still wants me there, so I took a leap of faith.”
That leap of faith seemed to pay immediate dividends as DJ started 15 games of the 31 played for the sub-par IUPUI roster, averaging 4.8 points, 3.6 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game. Unfortunately, the production DJ was providing was not enough to impress the coaching staff, as upon returning for his second year, he would find himself red-shirted.
“Obviously, I was hurt at first, but after talking it through with the coaching staff, I took that year and focused on getting stronger and being a better player offensively. As I got stronger and became more athletic,
as I came into my third year, I was coming off the bench and worked into becoming a starter.”
The setback of being red-shirted turned out to be the turning point in DJ’s collegiate career, as once he returned for his sophomore year, he had laser focus and a newfound understanding of how to affect the game.
“My role was to guard the other team’s best player, and I had stuck with that, and as I got more comfortable with that role, I continued to get better. Leading to getting voted as the Horizon defensive player of the year during my final year.”
Once DJ realized that his game suited the defensive end of the court, the world began to open up to him; he was starting games and continually getting tasked with shutting down the opponent’s best player. Having dominated on defense for multiple seasons, it should come as no surprise that upon the completion of his final season at IUPUI, DJ would get voted as the Horizon defensive player of the year. Being a defensive specialist is something that would improve DJ’s stock with interested teams at the professional level.
After leaving IUPUI, DJ would again encounter a setback, this time in the form of going undrafted, leaving him an unrestricted free agent on the outside looking in. Following discussions with his agent, DJ decided to pursue an opportunity in the G-League, attending an open tryout for his home town team and Indiana Pacers affiliate, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.
What separates DJ from the rest of the pack is his defense. All players want to be a star and put up 20+ points a night, not many take pride in locking up the best their opponent has to offer. Being defensively-minded inevitably helped during these tryouts as DJ made the final four, being invited to train with the team, a roster spot now insight.
“I think I realize, even my path into the G-League, going into the open tryout process, where there were 120 guys at the tryout, with four guys getting invited to train with the team and a very slim chance to make the roster.”
Impressing enough to make the final roster, DJ became vindicated in his decision to snub glances from overseas and instead bet on himself finding professional work in the United States. What no one would have guessed is that it would be a stone’s throw away from DJ’s family and friends.
“I’m from Fort Wayne, so to be here was like being in high school again, it was a true blessing to be here.”
During his first season with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, DJ participated in 25 games and started one of them, averaging 11.8 minutes per game while being charged with locking up the opponent’s best player. Those considered the other team’s top talent could be an NBA player recovering from injury or a two-way player splitting their time between the league and the G-League.
When the question of playing time got raised with DJ, he provided an intelligent and professional response;
“Every level I have got to, there has always been a period where I probably didn’t play that much, but I stick to the process and continue to get better.”
This question was followed up by asking about how his defense ensured he saw over 10 minutes per game as a rookie;
“My ability to play 1 through 4 and in the G-League, I was even playing the five and switching onto guards. I believe that you are what you can guard.”
It’s apparent the DJ understands what his identity is on the floor, and rather than trying to be someone he’s not, he’s putting in the work to become the best version of the player he knows lies dormant inside him.
” I firmly believe that if you work hard at your job, and come to work every day, you will eventually get your opportunity, it’s just about being ready at all times and being a professional.” “I like to watch guys like Thabo Sefolosha, Matt Barnes, Andre Roberson. Just guys that are making good money for playing good defense, so I’m just shooting from a distance, hitting the corner three, have the confidence to shoot that thing. I envision myself having success by becoming a typical 3-and-D guy.”
It’s clear that DJ is a young man with his feet firmly on the ground, interested in nothing but improving and waiting for his opportunity, and that’s all he needs. There is a very famous saying “failing to prepare, is preparing to fail” for DJ, he has been preparing for his chance every day, approaching each day as another opportunity to improve.
A humble demeanor and a real passion for the game surround DJ like an aura; he is a coach’s dream, and sooner rather than later, those coaches will be integrating him into the NBA. Marcus Smart and Patrick Beverley should be proud; a new defensive terror is waiting to be unleashed upon the NBA, one built from the same mold as them, and we all know how they turned out.