UK Men's Basketball

UK freshman Malik Monk ‘got in the gym’ to join family’s lineage of athletic excellence

His brother, Marcus Monk, played football and basketball for the University of Arkansas. An uncle, Chuck Monk, played football for Arkansas State.

A cousin, Ky Madden, played basketball for Arkansas. Another cousin, Jordan Madden, played on Baylor’s national championship women’s team.

“Actually, my whole family was around basketball,” Kentucky freshman Malik Monk said. “My mom used to play all the time. She used to play until she had my brother.”

So, surely, Monk is infused with powerful athletic genes.

“Somewhat,” he said with a hearty laugh.

Marcus Monk acknowledged that it was all but inevitable that his younger brother would be a standout athlete.

“Definitely,” he said. “When you come up in a household where everybody is playing sports, you learn so much more at an earlier age. And you’re kind of embedded in the whole process.”

No surprise that Malik Monk stood out from the beginning. But, he added, he was not a basketball savant who simply relied on biological superiority.

“I was faster and more athletic than everybody,” he said of his first baby steps as a basketball player. “But I really couldn’t dribble or shoot anything. I got in the gym and worked on that and became who I am today.”

John Calipari likens Monk to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, arguably the player closest to the UK coach’s heart.

“Malik maybe played like Michael,” Calipari said of the high school and AAU games he saw. “Which is if he’s ahead (in transition), give it to him. If you don’t give it to him, you’re coming out. Because he can just (finish). His explosion to go by you, his ability to make runners … .”

Calipari lamented that Monk too often “settles for shots.” The UK coach wants Monk in attack mode.

Monk sees Russell Westbrook as the player he wants to emulate. “That’s my guy,” he said.

When asked what he liked about Westbrook, Monk said, “Everything. Because some people compared me to him, and I used to like him all the time. I used to dunk it all the time.”

Monk got to meet his idol, and came away impressed.

“Laid back,” Monk said. “Him on the court and him off the court are two different people.”

Westbrook is laid back and funny off the court, Monk said, and an intense competitor on the court.

As for Monk, he said the bigger the games, the better he likes it.

“I love them,” he said of big games. Why? “Because it’ll show you who the best player is. Show you how much talent you have.”

Playing for Kentucky will give Monk plenty of big games.

Speaking of big games, Marcus Monk was in Bud Walton Arena and Malik Monk watched the telecast of Arkansas’ overtime victory over visiting Kentucky in 2014. A cousin, Ky Madden, took the shot that Michael Qualls rebounded and dunked at the buzzer to win the game for Arkansas.

Marcus Monk acknowledged how he rooted for Arkansas. “For sure,” he said.

Malik Monk laughed when asked if he rooted for the Razorbacks or UK. “At that moment, I knew I couldn’t have a favorite team,” he said. “Because somebody would think I wanted to go there.”

Because he grew up in Bentonville, Ark., which is less than 30 miles from the Arkansas campus, it was widely believed that he would follow his brother’s example and play for the Razorbacks.

“Everybody thought that,” he said. “But I just felt more comfortable with Coach Cal because he came to the house, talked to my mom, told her the truth. Stuff the other players didn’t want to hear.”

Calipari made no promises except to say playing for Kentucky would be hard, Monk said.

“If it’s too tough for you, don’t pick here … ,” Monk remembered the UK recruiting pitch. “He’s going to be hard on you. He’s going to yell at you no matter how good you are. Stuff like that. I don’t think players want to hear that.”

That sounded like Calipari drew a line in the metaphorical sand and knew any competitive player would be attracted by the challenge.

“Yes, sir,” Monk said. “That’s exactly how it was.”

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

Meet the Cats

This is the 12th in a series of 14 stories on Kentucky’s 2016-17 men’s basketball players.

Coming next: Derek Willis.

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