Monk’s Arkansas Adventure

Malik Monk was high scorer against U T Martin with 26 points.  He added 7 assists. (Photo By Victoria Graff)

Malik Monk was high scorer against U T Martin with 26 points. He added 7 assists.
(Photo By Victoria Graff)

I think all that Malik Monk v. Arkansas stuff was way overblown, the product of the media having to have something to talk about.

The days of a five-star high school athlete playing all his scholastic games in his home state and then sticking close to home for college are long gone. By the time players of Monk’s ilk are players of Monk’s ilk, they’re on the AAU circuit playing all over the country.

And they’re thinking of only one thing – getting to the NBA. Their college choices are not based on any loyalty to the home state U, they’re based on which school is high-profile enough, and with a track record, to get me to the lottery.

Honestly, I don’t remember any of this conversation when John Wall went to play North Carolina, or Brandon Knight to play Florida, or Julius Randle and the Harrisons to play Texas A&M, or Willie Cauley-Stein to play Kansas.

Would it affect his play? All I remember about that is Chris Lofton returning to Kentucky and murdering the Wildcats.

Did it affect his play? Maybe, though I think if it did, it was more about all the questions and conversation aimed at him, and the reassurances from John Calipari, than it was about anything he was feeling on the inside.

Look, Monk’s “game” is shooting a basketball from a long range and expecting it to drop into that narrow hole – diameter, 18 inches. It’s hardly automatic. Don’t expect this 18-year-old (turns 19 next month) to shoot night after night after night the way he did against North Carolina and Ole Miss.

By the way, I put Monk’s “game” in irony quotes, because his game is a great deal more than shooting threes. He’s a remarkable athlete and an all-around basketball player just developing his skills.

That’s what you get with Kentucky basketball these days. A lot of youngsters “just developing their skills.”

In the meantime, these youngsters are rolling through the SEC, as expected. Not so much because the conference is weak but because the Cats are so good. They’re finding a way to put these teams away and leave them in the dust.

Arkansas looked like it was going to put up a fight, especially when Monk slinked to the bench with two first-half fouls. But his backcourt buddy, De’Aaron Fox, took over the game – not with a bunch of three-bombs, like Monk, but in the way that Fox does it, streaking the floor, getting to the rim, delivering with that incredible ability to come in at one angle, hesitate at the top and scoop it at another. The comparisons with Wall just don’t stop coming.

Isaiah Briscoe’s style is different, more grizzly bear than antelope, but just as effective. Especially since he’s hitting his free throws this year.

And when you get a good shooting game from Derek Willis, Monk can take the night off.

They’re still not getting the ball into Bam regularly enough, and that’s a weakness – not because their win-loss record is suffering but because he’s a special weapon that requires care and treatment, taking him off the gun rack, polishing him up and making sure he gets plenty of work at the shooting range. He’ll set picks, get his two or three oops per game and clean the boards. But that’s not involving him sufficiently.

And they still don’t have enough brute force underneath. Cal’s trying to make Isaac Humphries part of the mix, but it’s slow to percolate. Right now, nobody seems afraid to take the ball inside against this UK team. And a clever veteran like Quentin Snider showed how effective that can be.

I think Big Blue Nation was spoiled by the 2014-15 team that had one of the best, deepest and strongest college frontcourts ever. That was a team that could use almost any five-man combination and be better than anything anybody else put on the floor.

This Kentucky team’s main four guys probably match up well-enough with, say, Cauley-Stein, Karl-Anthony Towns and the Harrisons. But this bunch doesn’t have Trey Lisles, Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis and Dakari Johnson waiting to come in. That team was so overwhelming that it almost didn’t matter how much any one player scored on any given night.

This team has a much slighter margin for error. So it was actually pretty encouraging to see it roll up 97 points on a night when its best scorer had just 12 points and missed all five of his threes.

But seriously, Monk, don’t do this again. VT