NEW ORLEANS — Arkansas sophomore guard Mardracus Wade was a 20 percent shooter from 3-point range last season, but going into today’s Southeastern Conference Tournament game against LSU he was shooting 47 percent (67 of 142) this season.
He credits University of Kentucky staff assistant Rod Strickland for helping provide the inspiration to help him dramatically improve his shooting.
Wade knew both Kentucky coach John Calipari and Strickland from their time at Memphis.
“Growing up I¿had a cousin play for Calipari and I was able to go up there and watch him as a little boy and I was always able to see how intense he was and how he was always reacting with his players and how they had fun and how he stressed the defensive part and spacing,” Wade said Wednesday. “Growing up he was always one of my all-time favorite coaches and I am a Memphis fan because that is where I am from. He made it fun and it’s one thing I liked about him.”
Even though he was in middle school and age 13 or 14, Wade insisted it was not intimidating watching Calipari guide players like current NBA star Derrick Rose.
“Coach Cal was pretty nice. He got after the guys, but I was just so excited to be around the coach and that caliber of players,” Wade said. “I was stunned by the things they could do on the court. It was unbelievable. Those guys at Kentucky now play with a chip on their shoulder. They go out there and they look so well prepared. They play really well and my hat just goes off to those guys and Cal for what he’s doing.”
Wade said he had a “little bond” with Calipari and Strickland through the Memphis years.
“I was always up there messing around and stuff. We had no issues. We bonded through my cousin. They looked at me more as a friend and I loved him (Calipari),” Wade said. “They are both good guys and give me insights on what to work on. My shooting thing, Rod actually told me after we played Kentucky last year at Arkansas some things that helped me. He said I want you to get in the gym this summer for an hour and spend time on your jump shot and get better. I told him, ‘Yes sir.’ We keep in touch. It is just a blessing to have people in my life willing to help me out and try to help get me better. I really respect the Kentucky coaches for that.”
Wade said Calipari’s popularity in Memphis has not waned since he left three years ago to coach Kentucky.
“He was a huge name in Memphis. He had Cal’s Steakhouse and all kinds of stuff,” Wade said. “People loved him and to this day people in Memphis still love him. He is just a living legend there and will always be known for the style of play he has and things he does.
“I just knew when he got that job at Kentucky that he was going to turn that program around. He is a good coach and plays a great style and he always brings in talented players. His success at Kentucky is no surprise,” Wade said. “But if we play them on Friday, I am trying to win.¿I am bringing all 110 percent at him. He would not want it any other way.”
No. 1 Kentucky will play the Arkansas-LSU winner Friday at 1 p.m.
No help: Georgia coach Mark Fox wouldn’t disagree with Calipari’s contention that his Wildcats have nothing to gain in the SEC Tournament since they are already ranked No. 1 and seem desinted to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA.
“I think that John's probably right, that this tournament probably can't really help him. Probably can't do anything but hurt him,” Fox said. “If they would even fall off the number one line. They have had such a dominant year. But it's an important week for just about everybody else. And hopefully we'll take advantage of that.”