It’s been difficult to know where to look this week at the Quest Multisport basketball complex, home of the McDonald’s All-American Game practices.
Train your eye on one court, and there’s De’Aaron Fox, slashing in transition, juking past a defender and throwing up a scoop shot at an impossible angle that somehow finds the bottom of the net.
Watch Fox for too long, and there’s bound to be the sound of a buckling rim from the next court over, where Malik Monk has just thrown down another violent dunk.
Turn back to Fox, and he’s tossing a perfectly placed alley-oop pass over two defenders and into the hands of Bam Adebayo, who finishes off the play with a slam.
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And then back to Monk, who’s using his quickness and athleticism to lock down other McDonald’s All-American guards on the perimeter.
On Wednesday night, Fox and Monk will be on the same court at the United Center, opponents in the annual all-star showcase.
In a few months, they’ll be on the same court in Lexington, teammates at the University of Kentucky.
What a show that should be.
Malik and De’Aaron are maybe the most talented guards in the country coming out of high school. The fact that they’re going together is really going to be special.
Tim Schumacher, Fox’s AAU coach
Recruiting analysts have been talking about the five-star backcourt ever since both players committed to the Wildcats in November. UK’s John Calipari has been dreaming about coaching Fox and Monk since before that.
This week in Chicago, even their highly competitive peers acknowledge how good these future Wildcats are.
Duke signee Jayson Tatum — already projected as the No. 1 pick in next year’s NBA Draft — has been practicing alongside Fox all week.
“He’s extremely athletic,” Tatum said. “His first step is really quick on defense and offense. He has long arms, great court vision. He’s a really special player.”
UCLA signee Lonzo Ball — the winner of just about every national player of the year award doled out so far — has been playing on the same team as Monk.
“He’s a lot of fun,” Ball said. “He can shoot the three, but he can definitely jump. Any time he gets in the lane, I’m giving it to him, and he’s going to dunk it. I can throw it pretty much anywhere, and he’s going to dunk it.”
Tatum and Ball obviously have high hopes for their own freshman seasons, but they also know something big will be happening in UK’s backcourt.
“It’s going to be special,” Tatum said.
“That backcourt is going to be scary,” added Ball.
The seeds were planted in August, when Fox and Monk were among 12 players chosen by Nike to travel to the Bahamas for two days of practice and an exhibition game against the Bahamian select team.
Both uncommitted at the time, they had always respected each other’s games, but they’d never really thought about playing together at the next level.
“People kind of put it in our mouths,” Fox said. “They would ask me, ‘How would you feel about playing with Malik.’ Or they would ask him how he would feel about playing with me. And then it was like, ‘Hey, we could really play together.’”
Calipari was clearly thinking about it. The coach had success in his first season at UK with John Wall and Eric Bledsoe, and he was a few months away from getting Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe to flourish in the same backcourt.
The idea was there, and Fox and Monk both knew that if they ended up in Lexington, the other could be there, too.
Still, they weren’t a package deal.
Fox said he didn’t know Monk was going to commit to the Cats at the time of his own commitment. And Monk has stressed this week that he didn’t pick UK six days later just because Fox had.
“That was just a bonus,” Monk said. “We’re two of the best guards in the country, and it’s going to be fun playing together.”
Fox is listed as a point guard, and Monk is considered a shooting guard — they’re both No. 1 in the class of 2016 at those positions, by the way — but Fox is also one of the best scorers in the country, and Monk has the necessary skills to run an offense.
“It’s going to be crazy,” Fox said. “We’re both unselfish. We’re going to be two of the most athletic, the fastest players on the court. It’s just going to be tough to guard. It’s going to be fun. I just want people to wait and see.”
Tim Schumacher has coached Fox for the past three summers with the Houston Hoops Nike program, and he’s also coached against Monk’s Arkansas Wings team during that time.
Schumacher is quick to praise Fox — who is such a leader that Calipari already has dubbed him “The General” — but he’s also loved watching Monk do his thing on the court.
He laughed at the thought of both players occupying the same backcourt.
“They’re very talented kids,” Schumacher said. “And that’s probably what Coach Cal does best — get those high-level guys to play hard and play together, play on the same page.
“Malik and De’Aaron are maybe the most talented guards in the country coming out of high school. The fact that they’re going together is really going to be special.”
Murray and Ulis are projected as first-round picks in this year’s NBA Draft, and it’s unlikely either will return to Lexington next season. Briscoe, on the other hand, could come back for his sophomore season.
Schumacher, who also coached against Briscoe on the Nike tour, laughed even harder at the possibility of that potential three-guard lineup.
“Coach Cal is a master of making it work with a ton of talent,” he said. “He’ll do a great job of getting those guys to play together, and it’ll be fun to watch.”
When Monk was confronted with the possibility of Briscoe joining him and Fox next season, his eyes opened wide. His grin was even wider.
“Aw, man. It would be crazy,” he said. “I can’t even picture that in my mind right now, it would be so crazy.”
McDonald’s All-American Games
Where: United Center in Chicago
Girls: 6:30 p.m. EDT (ESPNU)
Boys: 9 p.m. EDT (ESPN)