Meet the Wildcats: Malik Monk plays basketball with eye to be the best

Special thanks to Papa John's for presenting this year's Meet the Wildcats series. Fans can get two medium two-topping pizzas for $6.99 each when you buy two or more by using promo code UK699.

Special thanks to Papa John’s for presenting this year’s Meet the Wildcats series. Fans can get two medium two-topping pizzas for $6.99 each when you buy two or more by using promo code UK699.

It’s another new season, which means more new players and more new stories to tell. Over the next several weeks, CoachCal.com will be profiling each of Kentucky’s six newcomers in its annual and exclusive “Meet the Wildcats” series. Each story will be accompanied with video. Today the 2016-17 series continues with Malik Monk, a confident player whose goals include one thing above all else: To be the best.

M
alik Monk has a swagger about him. He knows who he is and he knows how hard he’s worked to get to this stage in his career.

Perhaps most of all, he knows how hard he needs to work to get to where he wants to go and become who he wants to be.

You see, Monk doesn’t want to just make it to the NBA. He wants much more than that.

“I want to be the best,” he said in an exclusive interview with CoachCal.com.

Bio Blast

Position: Guard
Date of birth: Feb. 4, 1998
Parents: Jackie Monk and Michael Scales
Hometown: Lepanto, Ark.
High school: Bentonville High School
Nickname: Lik
Twitter: @AhmadMonk
Instagram: @ahmad_monk
Favorite TV show: Teen Wolf
Favorite food: Pizza (pepperoni or meat lovers)
Favorite superhero: Thor
Favorite player: Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook
Favorite sport/hobby outside of basketball: Riding four-wheelers
Favorite movie: Twilight series

And he doesn’t really care who steps in front of him on the court in his pursuit to reach that dream. When Monk is playing basketball the blinders are put on, he has not outside distractions and he’s ready to prove his worth.

Growing up, Monk has always had to battle for respect. He’s the youngest of his four brothers. His three brothers on his dad side are just slightly older than him, and while they didn’t play basketball often they did compete frequently. His brother on his mom’s side, Marcus, is 30 years old and was a star football player at the University of Arkansas, and also played basketball for the Razorbacks. With the age gap being what it was, he couldn’t play basketball with him.

“When I was born I was just getting pushed around and stuff like that,” Monk said. “I didn’t like it so now I gotta do that to somebody else.”

So he has.

In high school he averaged 28.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game as a high school senior, and set a single-game school record with 53 points.

Monk was ranked either the No. 1 or No. 2 shooting guard in the country by all four major recruiting services. He was a top-10 prospect, regardless of position, in the Recruiting Services Consensus Index. But now, that’s all thrown out the window.

Kentucky freshman guard Malik Monk said he doesn't want to just make the NBA, "I want to be the best." (photo by CoachCal.com)

Kentucky freshman guard Malik Monk said he doesn’t want to just make the NBA, “I want to be the best.” (photo by CoachCal.com)

“I don’t pay attention to anything,” Monk said of recruiting rankings. “Just whoever steps in front of me I’m just trying to … show them I’m the best.

“I’m just focused from the beginning, from the get-go. Trying to be focused and focus on the game plan and do what I gotta do to help the team win.”

Monk led his high school, Bentonville, to the state championship game in 2016 and was tabbed co-MVP, along with now teammate De’Aaron Fox, at this summer’s Jordan Brand Classic game. He has elite athleticism and speed, and figures to be one of the most electrifying players in all of college basketball this season.

With that said, he doesn’t plan on resting on his laurels. He knows the college game is another step up in competition and he will need to raise his own game in turn.

“You gotta be (serious), because if you’re not – like I said, you’re on the collegiate level now you’re gonna get exposed by anything,” Monk said. “Any little detail or anything you do wrong is going to be on TV and somebody can find it out in film and expose you on it. You gotta be focused and sharp the whole game.”

“Malik is a scoring point guard who can play both positions. Malik has Derrick Rose explosiveness. Think about that for a second. He’s as good of a scorer, as good of a shooter and as good of a shot creator that I’ve seen in a while. With his quickness and speed, he should be a great defender – a great defender.” – Coach Cal
Monk believes and functions the same way in practice as he does in games. Especially with a team as talented as the Wildcats are this year, Monk believes a level of urgency is always required. Players must be detailed, sharp and focused, he says. They also must be confident.

“Confidence is the key. If you don’t have confidence – self-confidence for sure – I don’t think you can do anything,” Monk said. “If you don’t have confidence in yourself you might as well just stay in the house or something because you don’t want to do anything. If you don’t have any confidence to do it it’s not going to work.”

His collegiate recruitment came largely down to Kentucky and Arkansas. Ultimately, Malik chose Kentucky because of how comfortable he felt there. The decision, as expected, drew some criticism from those who wanted him to stay closer to home, but his hometowns of Lepanto and Bentonville supported him.

“There was no pressure for me, but they thought it was pressure,” Malik said. “I heard it like every day. I was just playing basketball wherever I go and I just picked what was best for me.

“I just blocked it out. I didn’t pay attention to it that much. And my brother and my mom took care of a lot of other negative stuff. But I really didn’t even hear that much unless I was at a game.”

Monk says every step of his process to get to this point in his journey has helped him – the good and the bad. One of the keys in his recruitment, he said, was Coach Cal telling him what he didn’t want to hear.

“Coach Cal just tells you the truth with anything,” Monk said. “When he came in to recruit me he just told me the truth. ‘If you aren’t ready for it just don’t come and don’t waste our time or your time.’ So that really just stood out to me. He was blunt and told the truth.

Monk says one of the things that stood out about Coach Cal during his recruitment was that Calipari told him what he didn't want to hear. (photo by CoachCal.com)

Monk says one of the things that stood out about Coach Cal during his recruitment was that Calipari told him what he didn’t want to hear. (photo by CoachCal.com)

“A couple coaches did it that recruited me, but Coach Cal was way more blunt than them. And just some colleges are going to tell you what they want you to hear, then when you get there it’s totally different. Personally, before the coaches even come I know they’ll tell me something I want to hear. But when Coach Cal came I was surprised because he told me something I didn’t want to hear and players did not want to hear. That really set it off from the beginning.”

Monk’s athleticism has drawn comparisons to former Coach Cal guards Derrick Rose and John Wall, as well as one of Monk’s favorite players, Russell Westbrook. In early-season practices and pick-up games he’s used his speed to blow by defenders and get to the rack where he can finish a variety of ways, including by putting defenders on a poster.

“You want to be the best. It’s pointless if you’re not the best or try to be the best. Being the best is fun.” – Malik Monk
One of the first things Coach Cal sees in Monk, though, is his potential as a defender.

Last season, Calipari similarly challenged Isaiah Briscoe by saying he thought Briscoe could be the best defender in the country. In high school, Briscoe said he played “honest defense,” another way of saying he would play defense and then take a few trips off. As the season progressed at Kentucky, Briscoe would prove Calipari right.

Now, that challenge is in front of Monk, who is already an extremely gifted offensive player who won the 3-point contest and finished second in the dunk contest at the McDonald’s All America Game in the spring. Like Briscoe, Monk said he didn’t play much defense in high school. Now, Monk said becoming an, “elite defender” is what he is working on the most this preseason.

“Since Coach Cal started talking to me about it I’m trying to focus on that more,” Monk said of his defense. “I’m trying to be the best defender in the world. Everything.”

To try something you’ve never really done before and immediately set your standards to become “elite” or the best in the world at it seems ambitious. But that’s Monk. That’s how he’s wired, and that’s how he plans on playing at Kentucky.

“You want to be the best,” Monk said. “It’s pointless if you’re not the best or try to be the best. Being the best is fun.”