LEXINGTON, Ky. – Malik Monk is beyond needing to impress University of Kentucky coach John Calipari. Now it’s very much the other way around. Even so, the top shooting guard in the recruiting class of 2016 put on a show for the Hall of Fame coach Saturday morning in Lexington.
Monk drove and dished and slammed and swished his way to 39 points on 11-of-17 shooting – he sank 6 of 8 3-pointers – and five assists in a blowout AAU victory at a Nike Elite Youth Basketball League event at the Kentucky Basketball Academy.
“I really just go in a different mode” when he erupts like that, Monk said, which is not rare. “I’m blessed to have the coaches here to watch me. It was just nice.”
So was his blistering performance, in which the 6-foot-3 Monk buried his first three 3-point tries, skied high enough to stare down into the basket for several dunks and at one point drove baseline, flew under the basket, flipped the ball behind his head on the other side and banked it in.
He said that move was “just instinct,” and Calipari, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and Kansas’ Bill Self all had front-row seats to see those natural gifts. So did UK assistant Kenny Payne, who watched every minute of both Monk’s first two games in Lexington.
Both a high flyer and a sharp shooter, the rising senior guard is Scout.com’s No. 4 overall player in the class and is arguably the most exciting player in 2016.
“He’s an electric athlete,” said Evan Daniels, Scout’s national recruiting analyst. “When he gets out in transition, he’s a threat to shoot over you or dunk on you – and that’s a regular thing. I think everybody who watches Malik Monk is kind of looking for that next big, highlight-reel dunk.
“But I think the most impressive thing about his game is the fact that he’s improved his jump shot. He’s always been the athlete and a guy that could score, but now you’re starting to see the confidence and consistency in his perimeter game, and that’s a big deal.”
Monk said Calipari, who conducted an in-home visit with him last week, has compared him to a former pupil with an NBA MVP award to his credit: Derrick Rose. Monk loves that, but he said he patterns his game after this year’s NBA scoring champ, Russell Westbrook.
Every major program in the country would like to have Monk, but Kentucky’s fiercest competition figures to come from his home-state team, Arkansas. He’s from Bentonville, which is less than an hour from the Razorbacks’ campus, and they’ve been recruiting him hard for a long time.
The entire Arkansas team attended one of Monk’s high school games recently.
“That means they want me to come to their program,” he said. “And I’m good friends with all the Arkansas players. It was nice seeing them there.”
Monk’s brother Marcus also played football and basketball for the Hogs and is the point man on Malik’s recruitment. Having someone to lean on who has been through the process provides some calm in what can be a crazy time.
“He won’t let anybody take advantage of me. He just helps me and guides me through everything,” Monk said, adding that his brother isn’t pushing him to stay home and play at Arkansas. “Really no pressure at all. I’m just trying to (find) whatever program best fits me and helps me with my dream. I’m just trying to do what’s best for me. If Arkansas is not the best choice, I won’t go to Arkansas.”
Speaking of his dream, that was a big part of Calipari’s pitch when he visited Monk recently.
“Really wasn’t telling me no lies. Just wanted me to come to his program and really just face my dreams,” he said. That dream? “Go to the NBA. It’s crazy, Kentucky having seven guys go to the league. Their program is nice and develops their players real good. So it was a good impact – it made a good impact on my choice.”
While Monk maintains that “every school has a chance right now,” he plans to narrow his list of potential schools to six after Peach Jam in mid-July. Kentucky, Arkansas and Oregon were the only three schools who stopped by his house in the last two weeks.
Look for this one to come down to the Cats and the Hogs.
“That’s what it’s shaping up to be,” Daniels said, “a battle between the hometown school and one of the elite, premier schools in Kentucky.”
Kyle Tucker can be reached at (502) 582-4361. Follow him on Twitter @KyleTucker_CJ.