Monk’s Outburst Shows Growing Game

Malik Monk was having a regular game – for him – poised to score somewhere around his season average of 17.2 points against Tennessee Martin.

Then he exploded.

First there were a couple free throws, followed by a layup. Next he turned the evening into his personal dunk contest with back-to-back run-outs. For a grand finale, he converted two and-ones in a row.

By the time his outburst was over, Monk had scored 14 points to take him from 10 to 24 points over a mere 3:10 of game time, all without even hitting a 3-point shot. There simply aren’t many players anywhere with the physical ability and mental makeup to pull off such a stretch.

“His confidence is high,” Dominique Hawkins said. “High to the roof. I know it because in practice he knocks down a lot of shots. And seeing him in games, you can definitely tell he’s having fun.”

The spurt propelled Monk to a career-high 26 points, as UK (6-0) cruised to a 111-76 win over the visiting Skyhawks (5-2).

“Malik was great tonight,” said Mychal Mulder, who scored 12 points himself. “He’s been great a few nights in a row. You see him taking huge strides forward as a basketball player. Great kid, excellent learner, fast learner, super explosive. You see the way he shoots the ball. It’s exciting to see the direction he’s going as a player.”

Monk’s upward trajectory was on full display Friday night, with sophomore Isaiah Briscoe sitting out for the second game in a row. In his previous two 20-point outings, Monk scored 33 of his 46 total points on 3-pointers. This time around, he made only 2 of 8 from beyond the arc. He even added seven assists for good measure, nearly doubling his career total.

“Malik has just gotten better each week,” John Calipari said. “It's crazy. Now he's just not shooting 3s, now he's running runners to the rim, he's pulling up, so there was some good stuff there.”

Well, it’s good from UK’s perspective anyway. For opponents? Not so much.

“I don’t think it’s any secret how athletic Malik is,” UT Martin head coach Anthony Stewart said. “And he’s really improved his outside shot, so right now, the way he’s playing, it’s pick your poison. If you play back, he’s hitting the open shot and he’s making 3s. His midrange is really good and he’s making free throws and obviously he can really get to the bucket.”

When he gets there, it’s something to see.

Monk’s two breakaway dunks are contenders for SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays, a segment on which the freshman guard figures to appear often this season.

“Kid is super athletic – one of the more athletic people I know,” Mulder said. “You know you’re going to see something a little flashy if he’s by himself. You saw him get the first one. The second one he smiled over at us because he knew that we were ready for something. He’s an exciting guy to watch. He’s real fun to watch.”

As good as the two dunks were, he had a defensive play – a UT Martin attempted alley-oop he swatted into the stands on a two-on-one fast break – that might be the best of the bunch.

“I would say he’s probably the most exciting athlete I’ve played with on a team before,” said Hawkins, who found Monk for three of his career-high nine assists. “He’s just—I don’t know how he blocked that ball. He just jumped up there, cuffed it and threw it. You just see him, windmill so lackadaisical.”

That laidback dunk speaks to Monk’s ongoing evolution. In the preseason, Coach Cal said Monk’s mind was moving too quickly. Now, he’s settling in a little more with each passing game.

“The issue for us, they get antsy at times, and what I love about Malik right now: He went from being an antsy player to being a comfortable player on the court,” Calipari said. “So he's still playing fast, but he's never out of control.”

Particularly with UK facing a difficult schedule over the next month, bumps in the road will come for both Monk and his team. That’s why Coach Cal’s steadiness is so important.

“It just takes time,” Calipari said. “You've got to keep talking about it. Keep stopping them in practice. No, no, no. Then when he does it right, you've got to stop and affirm that's what we want right there. Like today, I just told him he was really good today. Like, holy cow. Like, OK. Now, OK, how do we just keep building?”