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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Calipari gives sharpshooting Mack green light


Calipari gives sharpshooting Mack green light
By Dan Wolken
Thursday, October 18, 2007

During this offseason of anticipation and praise, there has been only one question about the University of Memphis basketball team that even remotely produces a ripple of concern about its ability to contend for a national championship: Would the Tigers have anybody capable of replacing Jeremy Hunt's often crucial 3-point shooting?

But the Tigers themselves have not been asking that question, at least not anymore.

Not only has Doneal Mack become a deadly shooter from behind the arc, he's also developed better skills off the dribble. "We all believe if he's open, he's making that shot," said teammate Antonio Anderson.

Because they've been in the Finch Center every day, watching sophomore guard Doneal Mack make one 3-pointer after another at a rate that suggests he could match or exceed the 89 threes Hunt made last season.

"We know for a fact, if he's open, get him the ball," junior guard Antonio Anderson said. "We all believe if he's open, he's making that shot.

"That's the confidence he's got in himself, and he's shown the team we can believe in him."

Of course, that'll happen when you make 15 straight 3-pointers, as Mack did in a drill Tuesday. Or when you make 21 of 24 from behind the arc, as he did in another drill Wednesday.

Watching that display, coach John Calipari could only shake his head in appreciation of how far Mack has come in one year.

A top-50 recruit coming out of Charlotte, N.C., Mack's college career started slowly, to the point where he didn't play at all in Memphis' Dec. 20 loss at Arizona.

Now, Calipari has granted Mack a total green light, as he bestowed on Hunt last year.

"He's more confident, more physically able and more understanding of the offense, all those things added together," Calipari said.

"And he's shooting the ball way better. That means, anytime he's open, shoot the ball. Every time you're open."

Despite the early struggles, Mack's potential to be one of the nation's top shooters was evident shortly thereafter; from Dec. 23 until the end of the season, he made 48.7 percent from 3-point range.

Though Mack finished the season as the team's top percentage 3-point shooter, he was not expected to take or make threes in bunches like Hunt, whose clutch shooting pulled the Tigers through road victories at Gonzaga and UAB, among others.

Now, Mack sees himself not only sliding into Hunt's role as a long-distance marksman but as a sixth man who can provide instant offense off the bench.

"I feel like my teammates have got more confidence in me this year," Mack said.

"Last year, you know, at the beginning they didn't really have a lot of confidence in me.

"I wouldn't say they looked me off ... but I wasn't really a factor. This year they look for me, they want me to play a big role and I feel like I fit that role."

Perhaps the most impressive thing to Calipari is how Mack has expanded his game, improving his right hand to the point where he can finish layups in traffic going either direction.

Mack has also added a nifty floater, which has terrorized everybody who has tried to defend him during early practices.

"I kind of worked on that this summer," Mack said. "When we play against those big teams, they've got shot blockers.

"You can't always lay it up, so float it over the top and if it comes off you've always got Joey (Dorsey) in there for putbacks."

In fact, the only thing Calipari has had to get on Mack about is calling for the ball when he's open.

Mack, a quiet player on and off the court, said he's still getting used to the idea that he has enough stature on the team to command the basketball.

"If he's behind that line, we're giving it to him to shoot, no matter what," junior guard Chris Douglas-Roberts said. "If he's open, we know it's down. He was a great shooter last year, but he didn't see the minutes Hunt saw.

"He could have been on the same level if not better. Now he has a bigger role, and he's going to shoot and make big shots."

- Dan Wolken: 529-2365

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