Malik Monk knows pressure. At 18 years of age he has already encountered pressure from within and from outside forces that have tried to break down the basketball phenom from Bentonville, Arkansas.
The pressure began at Bentonville High School, there Monk quickly became the state of Arkansas’ fastest rising basketball player. Showcasing a night by night highlight reel of astonishing dunks and pull-up jumpers from 25 feet out, the Malik Monk hype train picked up more and more steam.
Arkansas Razorbacks coach Mike Anderson and staff quickly pursued Monk and many tabbed him as the next great star of Razorback basketball, joining the ranks of Corliss Williamson, Scotty Thurman, Joe Johnson, Ronnie Brewer, and other greats who passed through the program. The Razorback fans quickly joined in with the coaching staff in trying to recruit their state’s next great player.
Sports radio shows, newspapers, and websites covered Monk and every game Bentonville played. With all eyes in Arkansas on him, the pressure grew for Monk to stay in state and play his college career for the state’s biggest school. Just like his brother Marcus did when he stayed and played football for the Razorbacks, Malik was now thought to be a savior of sorts to a basketball program that had been itching to get back to the Final Four, something they hadn’t done since Nolan Richardson won a national championship and got a runner-up with his historic “40 Minutes of Hell” teams in the mid-90s.
The stars were aligning in Arkansas and there was no bigger star in Arkansas than Malik Monk. But then something happened. The Arkansas fan base seemed to collectively gasp and the tusks started to show from the Razorback faithful because the one person in the SEC started to show up at Monk’s games and began to show interest in Bentonville’s prodigal son.
The one person that no one in the state wanted to see anywhere near Malik Monk. John Calipari. At that moment when Coach Cal and the Kentucky staff took notice of Monk and his arsenal of skills, the Arkansas coaching staff rolled up their sleeves and got ready for an old fashioned SEC recruiting fight.
When Kentucky-based websites and recruiting analysts put up Malik Monk highlight reels, the UK fan base took notice and immediately fell in love with Monk’s high flying, deep shooting assault. While he listed other schools that he may choose, everyone knew this was a two team race for Monk’s services.
Does he stay at home, pleasing his home state and becoming “the man” and “the face” of the whole program of Arkansas basketball? Or does he go to Kentucky, creating a fresh path of his own while playing for the program that many say is an NBA-type program that readies players for the pressure and life lessons needed to make it to the next level and beyond?
Fans from both schools of course knew it was a no-brainer for them. What does a teenager get when he has adults in his ear at all times of every day telling him what is best him? Pressure, that’s what. But Malik’s brother Marcus played for the Razorbacks on the football field so that was a big help for the home state, right?
Not so fast. Marcus quickly made many enemies overnight in Arkansas when he came out and said he thought Malik should sign elsewhere than the home school because the distractions around him in Arkansas would be too tremendous and tiring on his younger brother.
While many in Razorback Nation felt disrespected and let down by Marcus, many outside of the state kind of realized what the elder Monk was talking about and saw it as him looking out for Malik because he had already been through that lifestyle and had the experience that he could look back on and give his little brother advice.
So on November 18, 2015, Malik Monk tweeted that he was committing to the University of Kentucky and John Calipari. Immediately the Big Blue Nation rejoiced and welcomed the elite Arkansas guard with opened arms. But on the other end of the spectrum were the disappointed fans in his home state that felt betrayed by the Monk brothers.
It’s nothing new that Kentucky won a basketball recruiting battle, but this one hurt a whole state. On various websites, other high school students and fans talked trash about Monk for failing to ever lead Bentonville to a state championship.
Even longtime Arkansas broadcaster Mike Irwin publicly ridiculed brother Marcus and Malik, even quite awkwardly saying of them, “You better move”. The hate shown towards the Monks was so much that former Arkansas and NBA player Ronnie Brewer spoke out for fans in Arkansas to show class and cheer for their team instead of trying to tell kids which school to go to and make a decision for them. That is pressure on a teenager.
So now fast forward to now. The McDonald’s All-American Game has passed, the Jordan Brand Classic game has passed. Summer workouts have begun, and Malik has settled in nicely in Lexington, KY. He and his teammates are readying themselves for a long and exhausting season that is the usual song and dance that comes with playing at UK.
Malik was even singled out this week by Alex Poythress as someone who’s looked very impressive in summer workouts.
“Malik (Monk) stood out to me. He’s real athletic and real gifted offensively,” said Poythress. “Stuff like that. I think they’re going to be real well overall though.”
Malik Monk is a hot Knife Cutting Butter pic.twitter.com/u360gSYQaZ— Big Blue Nation (@Kentuckyyy_BBN) August 1, 2016
Night in and night out you will take your opponent's best shot and more than likely they will play above their potential because they understand they have to if they are going to have a chance to beat John Calipari’s army of talent.
From Bentonville to Lexington.
From classroom to ball court.
From Kentucky to the Draft.
Malik Monk knows pressure. But he does not have a whole state on his back. He now has a whole nation at his side. The Big Blue Nation.