Entering his junior season, Mardracus Wade is looking to avoid a sophomore slump.
Wade, who led the Southeastern Conference last season in three-point percentage, is looking to prove his offensive prowess wasn't a one-year fluke. He converted 47.6 percent of his attempts for Arkansas last season and finished fourth in the league in made three-pointers with 70.
It was a stark contrast from the 6-foot-2 guard's first season with Arkansas in 2010-11, when he made only 20.5 percent of his three-point attempts while shooting the ball considerably fewer times.
"I told myself I needed to be better and the shots that I was taking my freshman year, I had to knock those down," Wade said. "I came to the gym twice a day and put up 200 or 300 shots every time I came in, worked at it and the managers helped me out. I talked to different people to help me with my game and get my confidence back.
In high school, I shot the ball pretty well and coming in my freshman year, my confidence was really down. I had the mechanics, but I wasn't confident. I was going back and forth, wondering if I should be shooting, so I came in last year and coach let me know what I needed to do and I took it and ran with it.
"I started off small and just tried to make 50, so 10 in five spots. As time went on, I started to make 20 a spot and then after 20, I would do them off the dribble, off a screen and I just kept adding more to it until I got where I was comfortable and could just maintain it and that's where I am now."
Wade said it would take weeks at a time to accomplish goals at different spots on the floor. Rhythm - how to set his feet, arms, elbows - was the most important aspect of becoming a better perimeter shooter, and it took time to learn his craft.
Razorbacks assistant coach Matt Zimmerman was already aware of Wade when he came to Arkansas with the rest of Mike Anderson's Missouri coaching staff. The staff had recruited Wade out of Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia, but saw him as more of a defensive player.
That began to change for Zimmerman, a former Razorbacks manager, on his first day back in Fayetteville.
"I saw him in the gym with his shirt off and sweat just dripping off him," Zimmerman said. "He and Kikko Haydar were just launching three after three. With the new staff coming in, it generates some desire for them to try and impress.
"This was a staff that he knew from one time that recruited him and it gave him a lot of motivation. He put in all those extra shots and all that extra time that is crucial for a shooter. He was really working hard and busting his tail and doing all this extra stuff on his own, so by the time he got into the fall he had gotten so much better. His confidence went through the ceiling.
"He led the SEC in three-point percentage. Very few people talk about that, the percentage that he had and the way he shot the basketball."
A new system and no proven outside threat helped Wade flourish last season. Anderson's fast-paced style is paradise for guards in transition, and Rotnei Clarke's abrupt departure in the off-season left the door open for Wade to walk through as the Razorbacks' go-to man on the perimeter.
With an improved shot, Wade become effective both in set offenses and in transition as the Razorbacks forced 16.2 turnovers per game. Zimmerman likened Wade to Arkansas' all-time leading three-point shooter Pat Bradley and former Missouri sharp-shooter Matt Lawrence.
"Those guys could run and spot up and knock down shots, and Mardracus can do that, too," Zimmerman said. "A lot of guys can't run, catch, square-up and shoot a basketball. Mardrcaus can do that. It's a skill."
Wade benefited from the addition of all-SEC Freshman guard B.J. Young, who averaged a team-leading 15.3 points per game last season. With Young's quickness and natural ability to cut to the basket, Wade was often left open beyond the arc.
"I like playing with him because he can get it into the paint and kick it out and he takes a lot of pressure off of me, so I don't really have to do too much," Wade said. "My main thing is that I play defense first, shoot second and try to help this team out however I can. With me and BJ on the floor, I feel like we're probably one of the best two backcourts in the SEC, and maybe even the country."
Wade's shot selection is his strength, Zimmerman said. He never attempted more than 10 three-point shots in a single game last season and in one game against Georgia made all five of his attempts.
"He's not a big volume guy, so he's not going to have too many 1-for-9 nights," Zimmerman said. "He's more of a 2-for-5 guy, 1 out of 2 guy. He has a very good shot selection, I think. He very seldom takes a bad three.
"Coach Anderson is a good offensive coach for players because he doesn't beat them up if they shoot a shot and miss. I've been with him 11 years and can't remember when a guy took a shot and missed, and he jerked them out of the game. I think that helps Mardracus. He doesn't take a lot of bad shots, but if he does, Coach isn't going to jump down his throat."
While Wade improved his offense, his defense has also been showcased in Anderson's system. He averaged 1.5 steals per game - eighth best in the SEC - helping to create his own transition points.
"We cause some chaos and people will start getting really careless with the ball," Wade said. "They'll start off keeping up with us, but they'll start feeling fatigued and pressured and they'll be tired and worn out even though we're feeling good and can still get up and down. It allows us to get some easy transition points. We crash the ball, we get deflections and steals, we get charges and teams aren't used to that.
"Teams are used to running half-court and being able to run their offense, but we run a full-court, in your face, grinding and gritty defense that is everywhere and teams aren't used to that. Teams get careless, fatigued and lackadaisical and we'll get easy steals or they'll throw the ball out of bounds and that will benefit us."
Wade said Arkansas should also benefit from an improved inside game this season. Marshawn Powell, a preseason all-SEC selection last season, is back after an ACL tear and the Razorbacks also added junior college forward Coty Clarke, who was the team's leading rebounder during a four-game exhibition trip to Italy in August.
"Now teams are going to have to double down and that will leave us with some wide open shots," Wade said. "We have guys that slash to the basket and have guys who are better rebounders. Now teams are going to have to focus on not just our guards, but our bigs as well."
Wade and his coaches are hopeful more pieces will equal more success in the upcoming season.
"With our offense, people are going to have to come help the defender, so we'll always be able to kick that ball back out," Zimmerman said. "I think our guys know if we kick it out to Mardracus, there's a pretty good chance we're going to get three points out of it. That's very important to us. I think he's very important."
Wade Made Himself Potent Shooter
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