FAYETTEVILLE - For all concerned, it’s probably best that Malik Monk’s one and done year with Kentucky be done with Arkansas visiting Kentucky Lexington, Ky, rather than hosting Kentucky in Fayetteville.
The nationally No. 6 Kentucky Wildcats, 12-2 overall and 2-0 in the SEC, host the Razorbacks, 12-2, 1-1, in Saturday night’s 7:30 p.m. SEC game at Rupp Arena telecast by the SEC Network.
The most nationally coveted basketball recruit out of Arkansas since Russellville’s Corliss Williams joined the Razorbacks in 1992, Monk grew up in Lepanto, graduated high school from Bentonville and signed with Kentucky in the early signing period.
It seems many in Arkansas took it personally that Malik Monk, whose older brother Marcus was a Razorback star football receiver from 2004-2007 and also played Razorbacks basketball, signed with Kentucky.
Likely the booing that Florida star guard KeVaughn Allen received at Walton Arena leading the Gators to a Dec. 29 SEC season-opening victory over Arkansas would pale to the booing that perhaps would have registered on seismographs had Monk come to Walton.
Anderson, who tried hard to recruit them both, wasn’t among the embittered when Allen played so well last week and he certainly exudes no bitterness towards Monk now.
“I have been knowing Malik since he was in the eighth grade and obviously disappointed we didn’t get him here,” Anderson said. “But that was his decision. He’s a great, great kid And we all knew he was going to be a great player.”
So great that there seems zero chance he will ever play at Walton.
For when the Wildcats come to Walton next season, Monk assuredly will be in the NBA. The 6-3 freshman guard leads not only the Wildcats in scoring at 22.6 points for 14 games but scored 34 and 26 points for Kentucky’s two SEC games, 99-76 and 100-58 romps at Ole Miss and in Lexington over Texas A&M and nonconference scored 47 in the 103-100 victory over North Carolina.
“He’s averaging 30 points a clip in conference play,” Anderson said. “We all knew that was coming. He can score in multiple ways.”
Calipari said Monk isn’t just scoring but stopping opponents from scoring.
“What I am excited about is everybody that watches him can’t believe he is defending the way he is,” Calipari said on Monday’s SEC teleconference. “You and I knew that he could score the ball. But the biggest thing is he’s guarding. What I said when I went into recruit him is at the end of the day you should one of the best defensive players in the country because of the tools that you have. The length, the athleticism, the long arms the quick twitch. He is becoming that.”
Anderson said he recruited Monk every bit as much for defense as he did for offense.
““I’ve always thought that Malik would be a tremendous defensive player,” Anderson said. “Like I said, I have known this kid since the eighth grade, a tremendous kid.”
Most of his Razorbacks know Monk, too from the Razorbacks camps or high school or AAU ball.
“We worked hard, recruited the heck out of him,” Anderson said. “I wish him the best, just not in this game. But I do wish him the best in his career. In terms of this game, this is not Monk versus the Arkansas kids but Arkansas versus Kentucky and our guys are looking forward to going on the road and trying to steal one.”
Anderson knows it would be stealing one to upend Kentucky’s team filled with freshmen so fantastic that several Wildcats rookies could join Monk next season in the NBA.
“You look at talent and line our guys up against their guys and there’s no way,” Anderson said. “But that’s why you play the game. One thing our guys will do, they will compete.”
Razorbacks seniors Moses Kingsley and Manuale Watkins and junior guard Anton Beard of North Little Rock were on an Arkansas team good enough two seasons ago to stun Kentucky home and home.
A 16-points off the bench catalyst in Arkansas’ SEC victory last Tuesday night at Tennessee, Beard injured a shoulder but played on in Knoxville and can be expected to play in Lexington, too.
“I’m sure he’ll be a little sore,” Anderson said. “But this time of year you just have to deal with it.”