There’s being drafted. Then there’s being drafted by the New York Knicks.
On Wednesday, Kentucky star Malik Monk sounded excited about the possibility of playing for the Knicks. “Madison Square Garden is legendary,” he said. “Playing for the Knicks would be legendary.”
Monk looked a little subdued at the news conference after being picked by the Charlotte Hornets with the 11th pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft.
“I actually thought the Knicks would take me,” he said. “But nothing is disappointing about getting drafted. This has been my dream forever.”
Surely, former Kentucky All-American Kenny Walker would advise Monk not to be too disappointed.
Drafted by the Knicks in 1986, Walker found playing in New York more challenging than thrilling.
It didn’t take long for Walker to realize playing for the Knicks would be unlike anything he had previously experienced.
Hearing his name as the No. 5 pick meant an escape from the so-called green room, where cameras train on the player who waits the longest to be drafted. For the basketball community, TV pins a scarlet letter on this unfortunate player.
“Initially, I was just more relieved,” Walker said last week. “‘I don’t have to sit here any longer. Let’s go ahead and shake the commissioner’s hand and get this thing going.’”
Walker didn’t even make it to the commissioner (David Stern) before he began to realize a difference with being a Knick.
“On the way up there, you hear the boos mixed in with cheers,” he said. “Just for me, personally, that hurt my feelings a little bit because I was coming from Kentucky where everybody liked me and cheered everything that I did for four years.”
Walker now had to not only prove himself to those who doubted him, but he also would be expected to replace one of the most beloved Knicks, Bernard King.
“That added a little bit more pressure,” Walker said.
Sportswriter Fred Kerber of the New York Post said that from the start Walker was ill-suited to replace King. The player the Knicks wanted in the 1986 NBA Draft was Chuck Person of Auburn. Person, nicknamed the Rifleman, could be the kind of outside shooter to balance the inside power of Patrick Ewing.
But the Indiana Pacers took Person with the fourth pick. The Knicks then took Walker, who never showed much of a face-the-basket game at Kentucky.
“They didn’t pick fifth for being geniuses,” Kerber said of the Knicks’ brain trust.
“He was the nicest guy,” Kerber said of Walker. “Everybody loved him. … He was many things in life, but power forward he was not.”
Walker averaged 7.7 points a game over his five seasons with the Knicks.
“That’s a tough place to ask people to have patience,” Walker said. “Because there’s no patience in New York. They want it all, and they want it all from Day One. It was a growing experience for me.”
Walker recalled many encounters with Knicks fans as he walked the New York City streets.
“You’re thinking, ‘OK, this is going to be a pretty pleasant conversation,’” he said. “And, no. They’re going to tell you exactly what’s on their mind. If they don’t think you’re playing well, they don’t sugarcoat it in any kind of way. I was kind of a little taken aback with how matter of fact and how in the face that the fans were.”
During Wednesday’s pre-draft session with reporters, Monk likened UK to the NBA.
“I think going to Kentucky is just like the NBA, kind of,” he said. “But you’re not playing the top guys from all around the world. We have all the interviews, just like this. Almost every day. (We) see cameras everywhere we go.”
Walker dismissed the notion that Kentucky basketball serves as good preparation for being a Knick.
“Oh, it’s not even close,” Walker said.
Take the media. Walker laughed at the idea of reporters who cover UK being negative.
“Hey, you guys are like Christmas compared to Peter Vecsey and some of the guys I went through in New York,” he said. “Those guys could be fairly brutal.”
The perception of Walker as a Knick changed when he won the 1989 Slam Dunk Contest. Even the most cold-hearted fan had to applaud Walker winning the contest two days after his father suffered a stroke and died.
At the next Knicks’ home game, Walker received a standing ovation.
“I kind of went from a guy, I guess, who wasn’t quite living up to those expectations of a No. 5 pick to a guy who won the respect of fans,” he said.
Then and now, expectations can be distorted. To hear the questions fielded by Monk on Wednesday, you’d think the Knicks were a storied franchise.
The Knicks have won two NBA championships (1970 and 1973), the same number as the Houston Rockets (1994 and 1995).
As Monk paid homage to the Knicks, a memory from the 2015 NBA Draft came to mind. As an interview session with overall No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns ended, reporters with big-news-about-to-happen expressions on their faces entered to await an appearance by the fourth pick, Kristaps Porzingis, who was taken by the Knicks with the fourth pick.
Two years later, and with the last championship now 44 years ago, the Knicks seem on the verge of nothing special. Knicks president Phil Jackson seems to want to trade Carmelo Anthony, who has a no-trade clause in his contract. Reportedly, the Knicks would be willing to trade Porzingis.
“With his flair for the dramatic, it actually might be a good place for him,” Walker said before the draft of the possibility of Monk playing for the Knicks. “Sometimes it seems like he is oblivious to the pressure of everything going on around him, which is really good.
“But that was at Kentucky, and this is going to be New York.”
Even UK loses
Losing recruiting battles is a fact of life for college coaches. Even with John Calipari’s lap-the-field proficiency at sending players to the NBA Draft, Kentucky is no exception.
For example, Luke Kennard signed and played for Duke rather than UK.
“They recruited me pretty heavy,” he said of the Cats. “They were definitely in my top three schools. I loved Kentucky. I loved Coach Cal. I loved the organization, the program, that they have there. The tradition is amazing there.”
An obvious question: Why did he sign with Duke rather than Kentucky?
“I took visits to both,” he said at the NBA Draft, “and when I went to Duke, I kind of just fell in love. I fell in love with Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) and how he ran things. Academically, it was a great school, and I thought I fit in there the best.”
But what about Calipari’s record of placing UK players in the NBA?
“It was great,” said Kennard, a native of Franklin, Ohio. “I mean, to listen to that and know he prepares guys well, that’s a great thing. But at the same time, I know Coach K does the same thing. He prepares players for the next level, and I trusted that and went for it.”
Kennard was drafted No. 12 in the first round by the Detroit Pistons.
It seemed that prospects at the NBA Draft were instructed to never — no matter what — say a discouraging word. All is good. All coaches, players, systems and cities deserve praise.
So when a reporter prefaced a question about the Knicks by saying it was an iconic franchise, no surprise that Luke Kennard played along.
“There’s so much tradition in this organization,” he said. “I know they’re on the right track to success.”
The Knicks haven’t won an NBA championship in 44 years. This year, the Knicks ordered former standout Charles Oakley banned from Madison Square Garden. Reporters question the team’s triangle offense. Kristaps Porzingis skipped his routine end-of-season meeting with the front office. Carmelo Anthony refuses to waive his no-trade clause.
▪ The worst part of the pre-draft process? “The lines at airports,” Bam Adebayo said.
▪ De’Aaron Fox said he would not be surprised to be traded. He knows the NBA is a business. “That’s kind of how I looked at it after I went to Kentucky knowing I was about to be in the NBA the next year,” he said.
▪ Many questions involved the triangle offense associated with Knicks president Phil Jackson. “If you have the right people, it’s going to work perfectly,” Malik Monk said. Earlier in the pre-draft process, UK Coach John Calipari pointed out that Hall of Fame players (Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal and future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant) had played in the triangle.
▪ Said Monk: “I love social media, but it’s dangerous.”
To Brandon Stockton. He turns 33 on Sunday (today). … To former director of athletics Larry Ivy. He turns 74 on Monday. … To Dominique Hawkins. He turns 23 on Tuesday. …To Arizona State Coach (and former Duke point guard) Bobby Hurley. He turns 46 on Wednesday.