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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Mack Finds His 3 Point Shot

Mack finds his 3-point shot, heats up Tigers

By Dan Wolken
December 26, 2006

Freshman guard Doneal Mack admits to a bit of homesickness during his first semester at the University of Memphis, but for a while, his teammates and coaches were truly worried it was a more serious situation.

For several weeks, the quiet 19-year old would sleep hours and hours on end, sometimes half the day or more, going to class, practice and little else.

Saturday, Mack might have finally awakened.

After failing to get off the bench in Wednesday's loss at Arizona, Mack responded against Middle Tennessee State by scoring a career-high 18 points with five rebounds and making 4-of-7 from 3-point range.

"It's like the rim was the ocean for him," senior Jeremy Hunt said. "He shot the ball really well, hustled, played good defense and did everything we're asking him to do."

It was the kind of explosive performance No. 22 Memphis had been waiting on from Mack, a top-50 recruit from Statesville, N.C., who initially signed with Florida but was denied admission after a paperwork snafu and ended up as the top-rated player in the Tigers' freshman class.

"I was in a comfort zone," Mack said. "It felt good, laughing out there and having fun. When you're having fun and hitting shots, it's a great feeling."

Perhaps it will be a turning point for Mack, who Memphis coaches believe will be a very good college player in time due to his jaw-dropping athleticism and ability to shoot from distance.

But so far, Mack's jump shot hasn't been consistent -- he's 29.8 percent for the season on 3-pointers -- and hasn't done other things to coach John Calipari's satisfaction.

"Doneal Mack was 2-for-16 at the shootaround before Arizona," Calipari said. "I watched it. Now, would you play him? Would you be like, 'I can't wait to get him in'? If he's going to go 2-for-16, not grab (loose) balls and be an OK defender, you can't play that guy. And I told him that."

One of the issues Mack still struggles with, admittedly, is that his confidence -- and thus, his entire game -- yo-yos depending on how well he's shooting.

Against MTSU, Mack swished his first 3-point attempt (and three out of his first four), and all the sudden he was hustling to loose balls and aggressively going after rebounds. In other games, he's sagged after missing a shot or two.

"I'm the type person, I'm a rhythm player," Mack said. "If I miss my first shot, sometimes I kind of get down. I need to get out of that. But once I hit my first shot, my confidence builds, and once I start hitting them, it's like, OK, I'm feeling it now. I'm not playing timid, I'm driving, playing defense."

In recent days, Calipari has been stressing pre-game preparation, urging players to spend time visualizing success on the court. And then, after a performance like Mack's on Saturday, to repeat whatever routine led up to it.

"Where has that been?" Calipari said. "I taped the halftime warmup to see how guys are warming up. I like watching tape anyway, so it's not a big deal. What I'm trying to say is, this isn't for funsies. You're not in high school. Prepare yourself for something special.

"Whatever you did to get ready for this game, that should be your routine to get yourself ready."

-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365


Tigers' next game

What: No. 22 Memphis vs. Lamar

When: Thursday, 7 p.m., FedExForum

TV-radio: WLMT-TV (Ch. 30); WREC-AM (600)

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