The journey began in Lepanto, Ark., current population 1,853 (942 men, 911 women), estimated 2015 median income $24,920.
This was where Malik Monk cut his teeth playing ball, on the outdoor courts known locally as “The Woodz,” in the state where his half-brother, Marcus -- whom he idolized then and still does now -- played college football at the University of Arkansas on his way to a cup of coffee in the NFL before injuries detoured him to a basketball career abroad.
Malik Monk developed at The Woodz, but he fully recognized his potential as a player when his family moved across the state when he was in high school, to Bentonville, nearer to where his brother was completing his MBA at Arkansas in 2014. Most folks in the state expected Malik Monk to follow Marcus to Fayetteville and the Razorbacks after Malik averaged almost 27 points a game for Bentonville his junior season, and was MVP of the Nike Global Challenge.
But Malik shocked most (and angered more than a few) by deciding to go to Kentucky. Given John Calipari’s track record with one-and-dones, it was a smart decision.
Monk was SEC Player of the Year in his one season with the Wildcats, averaging 19.8 points per game and displaying the touch that made him the top two guard prospect in high school and the top two guard prospect in this year’s NBA Draft, shooting almost 40 percent on 3-pointers. His season was highlighted by a 47-point explosion in Kentucky’s December 103-100 win over North Carolina.
His decision to come out after Kentucky’s run to the Elite Eight surprised no one and Monk enters Thursday’s NBA Draft as a Lottery certainty and a Top-10 possibility. At 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, he’s on the small side as a potential two guard, but the stroke is NBA ready right now. For a moment, before the 76ers made the trade over the weekend to get the top pick from Boston, it looked like Monk might have a chance to go to Philly, where he worked out last week and where we caught up with him late last week. But even if he’s not going to the Sixers, he won’t be waiting long to hear his name Thursday.
Me: You went with Jeff Schwarz and Excel to represent you. How did you make that choice?
Malik Monk: Me and my brother. Just sat around and talked about it. Jeff looked out for us first instead of himself ... He didn’t care about himself about anything. He talked about us. He didn’t say his name with anything until later on.
Me: I know you’re really close with your brother. What’s the biggest thing he helps you with?
MM: Day to day life. I live, we live in Rye, Rye, N.Y., because of our agent, Jeff is in New York. He got us a house up there. My brother is with me, goes with me everywhere. He’ll be with me next year. He just got me through everyday life, just helped me with decisions.
Me: I don’t know if you were old enough when he was making his choices, about college --
MM: I was in kindergarten.
Me: So you weren’t old enough. But what has he told you about that process that he went through that’s helped you out now?
DBook, DeMar DeRozan, Westbrook, Lou Williams, CJ McCollum, Dame [Lillard] ... what I’m doing right now, I see them doing. And they’ve been doing it their whole lives."
MM: It’s your decision. With the college, it’s your decision. Make sure that you’re looking out for you first, then look out for your family, our family, which is him and my mom. Then other than that, he said, just make sure you’re having fun, and feel like you’re at home. So I picked Kentucky.
Me: So what was the toughest conversation you had to have with somebody about why you weren’t going to Arkansas?
MM: Why? Yeah, why? The reason why. That was the toughest one ... if I go to Arkansas, and I’m not happy, but they’re happy, what’s the point of going there? If I go to Kentucky, and I’m happy, but they’re mad, it’s still me. I’ve got to be happy. It really wasn’t anybody that stood out, but all the fans in Arkansas, they were sad. But I had to do what I had to do.
Me: I’m sure you knew the history of the one and dones at Kentucky and that was a big factor. But was style of play -- the dribble-drive offense, showcasing my game, etc. -- also important to you?
MM: It was really me, Cal telling me, that I was going to have to get off the ball, and take that challenge. ‘Cause I’ve been on the ball my whole life. So me going off the ball, and just being, every day I’m going up against [De'Aaron] Fox, [Isaiah] Briscoe, somebody that’s going to be on this level with me. So I just had to choose that.
Me: You hear from any of the young pros from Kentucky like Book (Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker) about the adjustment?
MM: DBook, you said him. Him and Tyler Ulis, I talk to them all the time. They came back to Kentucky and played with us.
Me: What’s the best lesson you learned playing in The Woodz?
MM: Don’t fall. Don’t fall on that concrete. (Laughs) Nah, the biggest lesson probably was you can’t give up. It don’t matter what size you are, or whatever; you can’t give up.
Me: Did Marcus give you something to shoot for, a goal -- I can be at his level, or I can be above where he got?
MM: That it was my decision. If I quit basketball now, he’s not going to care. Whatever I choose to do, he’s going to be behind me. So everything that I do is my decision.
Me: When you look at the NBA now and everyone playing small ball, it seems like this is tailor made for you.
MM: Yeah, it’s great. Everybody’s shooting, no bigs, really. Everybody can be around the perimeter, so I love it.
Me: Was any game -- other than the Carolina game -- one where you really felt you showed what you could do on the next level?
MM: I had a lot -- Georgia, Florida, the tournament a little bit, Ole Miss, the first SEC game, on the road…all SEC, I think I did pretty good.
Me: You envision yourself as a combo, a one or a two in the pros?
MM: A combo. It’s really not even, I don’t label Steph Curry as a point guard. And you can’t label Russ [Westbrook] as a two guard. It’s combo. You’ve got to be able to do both.
Me: When you watch the league, who do you really like watching?
MM: DBook, DeMar DeRozan, Westbrook, Lou Williams, CJ McCollum, Dame [Lillard] ... what I’m doing right now, I see them doing. And they’ve been doing it their whole lives.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
I kind of love traffic in the morning, i think it's great to see a lot of people chasing something for themselves, family's, Or others... 🙏🏾— Bismack Biyombo (@bismackbiyombo) June 15, 2017
Magic center/forward Bismack Biyombo (@bismackbiyombo), Monday, 9:01 am. We assume by chasing he meant driving to their destination to get on with their day -- to work or to school -- and not trying to find something they lost along the highway. (And, of course, not trying to cross the highway.)
THEY SAID IT
"We are used to long odds. If Golden State makes the odds longer, we might up our risk profile and get even more aggressive. We have something up our sleeve."
-- Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey, to ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe, on his team’s plans to try and compete with the once again NBA champions.
“I know eventually it’s going to smooth over. We’ll all sit down one day, probably have a cigar, glass of wine, and talk about it. Hopefully sometime in the near future. You know I’m hoping.”
-- Paul Pierce, to the Boston Globe, on his hopes for a reconciliation between Ray Allen and the other Celtics from the 2008 championship team. Allen has been estranged from, most notably, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo ever since leaving Boston via free agency for Miami in 2011.
“For one, I guess I just don’t draw attention to myself and give away who I am. It keeps me a little mysterious in my mind. People think that I’m just a quiet dude that doesn’t get angry. But they have no idea how fierce a competitor I am.”
-- Mike Conley, in an interview with SLAM Magazine, on why he gives off that mild-mannered vibe everywhere but on the court.
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