The march of basketball talent into and then out of Kentucky is so expected that it has become routine.
Since John Calipari’s arrival as coach in 2009, 18 players have spent one season at UK before being selected in the first round of the NBA Draft.
So when Malik Monk announced Tuesday morning his intention to sign with an agent and turn pro, the freshman shooting guard tried to show how his story might be unique.
Monk, writing for The Players’ Tribune website in a story headlined “Thank You, Big Blue Nation,” said he knows he’s being watched, and it’s important for him to make it.
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“I’m not just playing for myself. I’m also playing for all of the kids in those areas who are just like me — and who can watch me play in the SEC … and in the NCAA Tournament … and now even in the league, I hope … and know that I was just like them: raised humble, and rural, and in a place where people don’t get a lot of opportunities.”
Monk, who hails from Lepanto, Ark., population 1,853, spoke often this season about the town that molded him and the neighborhood, nicknamed the Woodz, where he sculpted his basketball skills.
“The Woodz helped me get to where I am today,” Monk wrote. “It’s one of those places where everyone is friends with everyone. We’re all from pretty modest means — sharecropping, factory-working, and not a whole lot of opportunity to get out from that — and I think those circumstances we grew up in just meant that everyone sort of stuck together.”
Monk also wrote that if any child is inspired by his example — on a basketball court or off — “that would be everything.”
The 6-foot-4 guard made significant use of his one season in Lexington, blossoming into the school’s highest-scoring freshman ever, with 754 points.
He is projected as the No. 5 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft by DraftExpress.com. Kentucky teammate De’Aaron Fox, who announced his plan to enter the draft on Monday, is listed at No. 6 in the same mock draft.
Players have until 11:59 p.m. EDT on April 23 to submit their names for the draft, which will be held June 22.
Kentucky freshman Bam Adebayo and sophomore Isaiah Briscoe have been the subject of speculation that they, too, will declare for the pros.
Monk averaged 19.8 points per game in helping lead Kentucky (32-6) to the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament. His 754 points were not only the most ever by a UK freshman but the fourth-most in a season by any Wildcat, trailing only Dan Issel (948 in 1970), Jodie Meeks (854 in 2009) and Jamal Mashburn (767 in 1992).
“Malik is a special talent,” Calipari said in a UK news release. “With Malik you’re talking about a superior athlete with skills and an ability to score that make him truly unique. What I love about Malik is that, as the season went on, he learned how to help our team win by doing more than just score. He became an efficient player who I believe will make an immediate impact at the next level.”
Monk’s most memorable moment was his 47-point outburst in Kentucky’s 103-100 victory over eventual national champion North Carolina in December in Las Vegas. It was the most points ever scored by a UK freshman and the most scored by any player in the Calipari era.
Monk was voted SEC player of the year, newcomer of the year and first-team All-SEC by the media, and SEC freshman of the year and All-SEC first team by the league’s coaches.
In the news release issued by UK, Monk offered many thanks to those who contributed to his season of success in Lexington, including Calipari, the coaching staff, his teammates and others associated with the school and team. In The Players Tribune article, Monk — as the title suggested — was grateful to UK fans, especially for helping him cope with fans back home who wanted him to remain in Arkansas.
“When I say, ‘Thank you, Big Blue Nation’ — know that it’s not just one of those things people say on their way out. Y’all really helped me through it, in a big way, and lent me your hand when I needed one. Y’all treated me like family. And I’ll consider y’all family for life.”
One and done
Here are the 18 players since John Calipari’s arrival who have spent one season at Kentucky before being chosen in the first round of the NBA Draft (listed with number of first-round selection):
1. John Wall
5. DeMarcus Cousins
18. Eric Bledsoe
29. Daniel Orton
3. Enes Kanter
8. Brandon Knight
1. Anthony Davis
2. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
29. Marquis Teague
6. Nerlens Noel
29. Archie Goodwin
7. Julius Randle
17. James Young
1. Karl-Anthony Towns
12. Trey Lyles
13. Devin Booker
7. Jamal Murray
28. Skal Labissiere