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Madden finally living up to expectations
Arkansas guard Rashad Madden (00) drives to the basket against Kentucky guards Aaron Harrison (2) and James Young (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)
FAYETTEVILLE Rashad "Ky" Madden spent much of his basketball career angry.
Angry at officials, coaches, opposing players and even water coolers, such as the one he once hit during a high school playoff game.
Even during his first two seasons at Arkansas, Madden's anger followed him.
There were suspensions, frustrations with teammates and, more than anything else, a complete disbelief at the loss of the one ability he had always been able to count on — his basketball game.
From highly recruited prep star to collegiate bust in his native state, Madden had experienced the full spectrum of highs and lows entering this season for the Razorbacks (12-4, 1-2 Southeastern Conference).
The one-time afterthought has experienced a remarkable turnaround this season for Arkansas. After averaging just 5.4 points per game over his first two years, Madden has suddenly revived his career.
The 6-foot-5 junior is third on the team with an average of 11.7 points per game as the Razorbacks look to follow their spectacular last-second win over No. 13 Kentucky with a victory at Georgia (8-7, 2-1) on Saturday.
Even more remarkable for Madden is that he leads Arkansas with an average of 17.7 points per game in SEC play — another stunner in a season full of them for the kid from Lepanto, Ark.
"Who would have ever thought it? Me, being a go-to guy for this season and this team," Madden said.
Madden arrived at Arkansas in 2011 as part of a much-heralded first recruiting class for coach Mike Anderson, joining Hunter Mickelson, BJ Young and Devonta Abron as beacons of hope for a program mired largely in mediocrity since back-to-back national championship game appearances in 1994-95.
Young left for the professional ranks after last season, while Mickelson (Kansas) and Abron (TCU) have both transferred. Madden is the only holdover from the signing class.
The guard was given seemingly every opportunity to succeed with the Razorbacks, playing in 63 games over his first two seasons.
His production simply wasn't there — particularly last season when he averaged just 4.2 points while playing an average of just 16.8 minutes per game.
Making matters more difficult away from the court were brief suspensions for violating team rules in each of Madden's first two seasons.
Another suspension followed this season, with Madden missing Arkansas' two exhibition games and the season opener, but Anderson wasn't about to give up on a player he had seen mature greatly since last season.
"I think Ky is just getting more serious about basketball and school, too," Anderson said.
"It kind of goes hand in hand ... You just think through all the experiences that he's gone through, playing some, not playing some, suspended for various reasons and now all of a sudden it's his time."
Following his suspension this season, Madden scored just three points in his season debut against Louisiana-Lafayette as he battled a stomach virus.
He quickly asserted himself after that, hitting all three of his 3-point attempts while scoring 11 points in a win over Minnesota at the Maui Invitational.
Madden then scored a career-high 21 points in a win over Savannah State on Dec. 12, topping that with a 23-point effort in last week's overtime loss to No. 7 Florida.
He was 5 of 10 on 3-pointers against the Gators and has hit 25 of 51 shots (49 percent) from behind the arc this season — a percentage that would lead the SEC if he had made at least two 3-pointers per game to qualify. This from a player who connected on just 24 of 106 3-pointers (22.6 percent) over his first two seasons.
"He's really stepped up; he's playing really confident basketball," teammate Fred Gulley said. "He's practicing hard. It's good to see that all the hard work's paying off for him."
Madden said his first two seasons were made more difficult by the pressure of those around him who constantly talked about the need to be a "one-and-done" player in college before heading to the professional ranks.
He said he spent the offseason learning to block out those thoughts and conversations, as well as improving his practice habits to reflect game speed and scenarios — all while controlling the anger that once controlled him on the court.
"I just tried to channel them a lot, my emotions, and get them under control," Madden said. "I feel like now that's what I'm doing. I've got my emotions in check."
Whatever Madden has done, it's worked so far this season.
"When you've got somebody behind you believing in you, just the coach, the whole team," Madden said. "I don't want to let them down, so it just drives me to go harder and harder and harder — just for my team and the state."