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Monday, February 26, 2007

Sunday Is Senior-Day for Hunt, Sandridge and Wade

Little-used seniors to get prime exposure in Tigers' finale
But don't go crazy in there, coach warns

By Dan Wolken
February 24, 2007

There is hardly a more rousing ovation at any University of Memphis home game than the reception given when walk-ons Clyde Wade and Jared Sandridge take the floor.
Normally, their participation means No. 7-ranked Memphis is trying to run out the clock in a blowout victory. But that will all change for a little while Sunday at FedExForum.

As coach John Calipari made official late Thursday night after the Tigers wrapped up a 99-63 win over Rice, Wade and Sandridge, along with Jeremy Hunt, will continue Calipari's "Senior Day" tradition by starting Sunday against Houston.
On national television.

Against one of the few Conference USA rivals that's capable of beating Memphis.

With the Tigers in the midst of a 16-game winning streak.

"He's had a history of (starting the seniors)," Sandridge said. "We weren't sure if he was going to do that or not, but I think it's a nice way to send us out, something we're all looking forward to. We're looking forward to the opportunity and making the best of it."

Making the best of things is nothing new for Sandridge and Wade, Memphis natives whose desire to play for the Tigers trumped opportunities each had to play bigger roles in other programs, and in Sandridge's case, other sports.

Instead, both have toiled on the Tigers' scout team, helping prepare Memphis' starters with their work in practice.

Now, they are the starters, a well-earned token of appreciation that Calipari wasn't about to take away from them.

"I've just always done it," Calipari said. "I did it at Massachusetts and every year here. So whoever the seniors are, I've always started them. As long as they're not trying to do stuff they can't do, they'll be fine. I'll leave them in there as long as I can, and I'll get them back in if we get an opportunity."

For Wade, Sunday's game will actually be his second start, which in some ways brings full circle his tumultuous career at Memphis.

As a freshman in 2002-03, Wade started against Furman and finished the season with an average of 7.4 minutes in 25 appearances. Whether Wade could have continued as a regular contributor is unclear.

But he never got that chance because the next season, Wade was suspended while fighting federal fraud and conspiracy charges of which he was eventually acquitted.

Then, after he returned in 2004-05, Wade played just three games before tearing an anterior cruciate ligament, forcing the Kingsbury High alum to miss yet another season.

But Wade has not complained about his career; rather, he has focused on the experiences he's had playing for the only college team he wanted to be a part of.

"I always wanted to play for Memphis. I had some options after prep school, but this is where I wanted to be," Wade said. "I could be mad about not playing, but there's no use to have no negative attitude. Just stay positive, and good things will happen one way or another."

For Sandridge, who spent his first two years at Angelina Junior College in Texas before transferring to Memphis, playing basketball has come at the expense of his golf skills.

Despite not taking up the game seriously until high school, Sandridge is almost a scratch golfer and probably good enough to play for a number of college programs.

But he said he never considered giving up basketball to focus on golf, and part of the reason is that he's had too much fun playing his role in Memphis' 24-3 record this year and Elite Eight appearance last season.

"Cal treats us like everyone else," Sandridge said. "Everything they get, we get. So even though we're not getting as much playing time, we're still treated like the rest of the guys. The whole team is a big unit. Everybody cheers for everybody else. It's not like anybody is selfish or putting the spotlight on themselves. Everybody is able to share in the glory we've been able to experience so far."

-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365

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