Freshman Malik Monk’s smile on the bench late in Kentucky’s loss at Florida on Saturday drew a rebuke from Coach John Calipari.
“I got on him,” Calipari said on a Southeastern Conference teleconference Monday.
Calipari said Monk smiled in response to Florida students singing “Happy Birthday” to him. Monk turned 19 on Saturday.
“But I said to him, ‘Do you understand you’re at Kentucky,’ Calipari said. “‘That the camera is always on. The mic is always on.’
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“And it was a lesson for him.”
The lesson might continue, Calipari suggested.
“I’ll probably put him out in front of the media . . . and let him explain himself,” the UK coach said.
Winning is on my mind from the jump. If anybody took that wrong, I’m sorry for that.
On cue, Monk was one of two UK players made available to the media later Monday. He said he was caught “off guard” by the Florida students singing “Happy Birthday.”
“That’s really the main reason I laughed,” he said. “. . . It was a funny clever thing that the fans did.”
Monk insisted that the smile should not be interpreted as not caring about winning or team success.
“Winning is on my mind from the jump,” he said. “If anybody took that wrong, I’m sorry for that.”
Assistant coach Tony Barbee, who substituted for Calipari at the regular day-before-the-game news conference (Kentucky plays LSU on Tuesday), vouched for Monk’s desire for team success as well as individual acclaim.
When asked about some seeing Monk’s wide smile as indicating he was not bothered by UK’s 22-point defeat (second-largest margin of defeat in Calipari’s eight seasons as coach), Barbee said, “We don’t buy into that.
“We’re around Malik every day and we know how much he cares about winning, and how much it means to him. He knows he didn’t play his best on both ends of the floor. I can see where on your birthday, you’re on the road an opposing students section sings you ‘Happy Birthday’ that could throw you off a little bit.”
Earlier this season, Monk’s AAU coach spoke of the player’s desire to be responsible for winning.
“There is no game too big for Malik. Literally,” said Ron Crawford, the coach of the Arkansas Wings. “He will take the last shot in the world championship if he needs to. And he wants that. When it’s crunch time, he wants the ball.”
It might seem Monk had already demonstrated his desire to win for Kentucky. In December, he hit the winning shot against North Carolina. He’d already scored 40-plus points.
And against Georgia last week, Monk hit a contested jumper in the final seconds to send the game into overtime.
If people questioning his desire to win hurt his feelings, Briscoe kept that to himself.
“Not really,” he said. “People are going to think what they think. So I’m just looking past that.”
I knew it was going to be something because we’re at Kentucky. And Cal told me that before. The cameras are always on us.
Moments before the smile, Monk and teammate Isaiah Briscoe were unhappy, Calipari said he learned from speaking with assistant Joel Justus.
“They’re going nuts about how bad they’d played,” said Calipari, who added that Monk and Briscoe said things like, “I can’t believe this” and “You and I are better than this” and “What the heck?” and “How did we let this (happen)?”
That’s how Monk remembered the moments leading up to the singing of “Happy Birthday” and his smile.
“We couldn’t believe how bad we played,” he said. “We did everything wrong.”
While surprised by the students’ rendition of “Happy Birthday,” Monk said he was not surprised by the negative reaction to a big smile in a crunching defeat.
“I knew it was going to be something because we’re at Kentucky,” he said. “And Cal told me that before. The cameras are always on us.”
If Monk momentarily forgot about the unblinking camera, it didn’t take long for Calipari to offer a reminder.
“As soon as we got to the locker room, Cal wanted to meet with us,” Monk said.
Calipari’s demeanor in this impromptu meeting?
“For sure, he was mad,” Monk said. “When he said the camera’s always on us, and we lost by 20-something, that’s two things like that. (Monk held out his open palms side by side). Of course, he was mad.”
LSU at No. 15 Kentucky
When: 7 p.m.
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1
Records: LSU 9-13 (1-9 SEC), Kentucky 18-5 (8-2)
Series: Kentucky leads 87-26
Last meeting: Kentucky won 94-77 on March 5, 2016, in Lexington.