. — Only a month past his 16th birthday, Bentonville (Ark.)
sophomore Malik Monk
is considered by many to be the nation's best shooting guard in his age group. In socks, he is a 6-foot-3-inch combination of shooting skill, world-class athleticism, timing and balance that makes him at times look like Ray Allen's NBA Jam avatar mixed with the real Michael Jordan.
"I'm used to doing that," Malik said matter-of-factly after a state tournament alley-oop finish that prompted one blogger to deem him the "God of Dunk."
It doesn't take much YouTube-ing to realize, scarily enough, he isn't exaggerating. And it's not hyperbole to say Monk, already one of prep's most electrifying players, is also on the cusp of becoming one of its hottest recruits. He has already gotten scholarship offers from Arkansas, Memphis, Kansas, Florida, Connecticut Baylor and Indiana. And Kentucky and North Carolina have recently shown strong interest.
The No. 6 player in the 2016 class according to 247 Sports
averaged 22.7 points on 43 percent shooting, along with 2.2 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game this season, leading the Tigers within one game of the state 7A (largest classification) title game which took place Thursday night. This in a program that was 67-102 over seven seasons starting in 2005.
But Monk's impact goes well beyond typical stats or even wins and losses. Few high school players match Monk in number of "oohs" and "aahs" elicited from the crowd. He has a way of playing to the crowd while looking all the time like he is simply going about his business in a workshop.
He has a jauntiness in his step that announces to spectators they’re about to get more than they paid for. It’s small wonder the average attendance of Bentonville home games rose about 40 percent from last season and on a few occasions up to 500 people had to be turned away from its sold-out 1,800-seat arena.
Only in 10th grade, Monk already ranks with all-time great Arkansas prep players like Jackie Ridgle, Sidney Moncrief, Ron Brewer, Corliss Williamson and Joe Johnson, according to long-time observers.
Yet he’s still very much a work in progress. Minutes after he threw down the "God of Dunk" dunk, he fired an errant cross-court pass into press row that sent a 20-ounce bottle of Diet Coke flying inches from a reporter’s elbow.
Despite elite scoring ability (he made 11 of 13 three-point attempts in one game this season) Monk thinks of himself as a point guard under construction. “I want to be a facilitator,” he said, “just in case I don’t grow anymore.” To take this step, Monk will have to cut down on his six-turnover outings.
Fortunately, Malik has an older brother whom he considers to be “like a father” helping tighten his game. Marcus Monk, a former pro basketball player in Germany, essentially serves as Malik’s publicist, confidant and trainer all rolled into one. Marcus, too, was unimpressed with Malik’s alley-oop slam in a quarterfinal game of the state tournament last week. He’d much rather discuss Malik’s court awareness and footwork.
Marcus was talking while sitting in the stands of the tournament site at Conway
, in the middle of the state. Leaning slightly forward, he cringed when Malik fired up two of his eight 3-point shot attempts which didn’t come in the flow of the offense. At one point in the second half, after a Bentonville blowout win was assured, Malik was playing post defense. He reached on his man, grasped air, and easily got scored on.
"You see, that's terrible," Marcus said.
A 27-year-old former University of Arkansas player, Marcus serves as the yin to all the viral video yang which will only continue to accumulate around his brother’s burgeoning reputation. On the court, Marcus reminds Malik and his teammate Tyrik Dixon
to keep their heads up and be vigilant about which angle traps and double teams may come from. Off the court, he stresses keeping heads down, in books, and not messing with girls too much. In short, never stop self-correcting and honing fundamentals. There’s your meal ticket. Dunking is mere icing.
By and large, the group of family and friends who sit by Marcus agree with him. That's why after Bentonville punches its way into the semifinals, he, Malik and their mother get on the highway to head west, toward their land of opportunity. But the rest of the clan goes the other way. Video by Matt Johnson; Additional footage by Hoopmixtape, Scott Fusselman, Devon Gulati and Connor Leech; Editing by Scott Hargrove; Cover photos by Marc F. Henning