Coaches John Calipari of Kentucky, Mike Anderson of Arkansas and Fred Hoiberg of Iowa State all sat courtside at the same high school basketball game to see the kid with the “Magic Johnson smile.”
Malik Monk, a 6-foot-3 junior from Bentonville, Arkansas, is that good.
“His talents really start on the offensive side of the ball. He can score any way, he has unbelievable athleticism, it’s not just dunk-contest athleticism,” Bentonville coach Jason McMahan said.
McMahan says Monk also displays a brilliant vision for passing. On defense, Monk can lock down an opponent man-to-man to stop drives cold, and his 39-inch standing vertical leap makes Monk a solid rebounder.
And then there is his ability from downtown.
“(Monk) is possibly the best three-point shooter in the nation — he is the kind of guy that can go 13-for-13 in a game,” McMahan said.
Add it up and you get a guy who can drive and fly like Russell Westbrook, shoot 3-pointers like NBA percentage record-holder Kyle Korver, and share his emotion with the fans like Charles Barkley or Magic.
“When he plays basketball, he plays with joy, that Magic Johnson smile and that’s fun to see,” McMahan said.
In addition to drawing in college coaches to watch, Monk more or less got the entire city of Bentonville interested in watching his games. Large crowds at Tigers games reached a point that fire marshals had to get involved.
“Last year we had seven home games, and five of them we turned people away,” McMahan said.
The 11,000 seats at JQH Arena should provide enough room for fans who want to see Monk play.
“We’re so excited. We are just honored,” McMahan said of the Tournament of Champions invitation. “The more we find out, the more we learn about the Bass Pro — I’ve been told that it’s the best. To get to take our basketball program to that is an honor as a coach, and I look at that as a blessing for our kids.”
If opposing teams figure out how to defend against Monk, they also have to contend with Ben Smith. The 6-foot-9 power forward can block shots and score inside and is signed to play for John Brown University. College teams are also interested in junior Tyler Robinson, an in-and-out slasher who shoots 75 percent from the field and leads the Tigers in rebounding.
Bentonville will bring 6-foot-3 sophomore point guard Jordan Hatfield off the bench. McMahan says the sixth man is one of the best sophomore players in Arkansas.
Bentonville faces Wesleyan Christian of High Point, North Carolina in the opening round of the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions at 9:30 p.m. Thursday at JQH Arena.
Bentonville Tigers fast takes
Location: Bentonville, Arkansas
Colors: black and gold
Coach: Jason McMahan
Previous season win/loss record: 18-6
T of C history: none
Notable alumni: Jim Walton and the late John T. Walton, sons of Walmart founder Sam Walton. Jim Walton is also the CEO of Arvest Bank.