By LARRY VAUGHT
Playing in New York City’s Madison Square Garden didn’t overwhelm Kentucky freshman Malik Monk. Instead, it inspired him as he had 23 points — and made six 3-pointers — in the win over Michigan State.
“Coming from Bentonville, Arkansas, I was like the top player in Arkansas, so every game was packed for me. I had a lot of adversity because I committed to Kentucky. I’m used to a lot of fans and ‘ooohs’ and all that stuff. Adversity, I’m used to all that,” Monk said after the game. ““I knew all of us would fight for each other, we love each other, we would do anything for each other, and we just do anything to win.”
Sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe had 21 points against Michigan State. He was not surprised that Monk ended his shooting slump and played so well on national TV in front of about 100 NBA scouts and coaches.
“I knew he was due for a good game shooting-wise. I told him that before the game and he shot well…He hasn’t been shooting the ball as well as I know he can and I knew he was due for a big game,” Briscoe said.
Monk thought he might have chances to get plenty of open shots with Michigan State likely to clog the lane to stop Briscoe and De’Aaron Fox from driving.
“Fox and Briscoe get in the lane every time they can. So, I just had to be prepared. They set me up well and I was just able to knock down the shots,” he said. “They ran with us a lot. We run a lot too. It was hard to adjust to them. We’ve never had a team run that much with us. We were just trying to adjust. Later on, down the stretch, the second half we adjusted real well.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari says Monk is one of the most athletic players he’s had, a big statement considering the talent he’s just coached at Kentucky now playing in the NBA.
“He’s a little antsy right now. His mind moves really fast. When his feet move fast, his mind moves fast. So I gotta slow down his mind and let him see the game a little different,” Calipari said.
“That’s all I’m talking about to him. But athletically, jumping, speed, all those things, whoa. He can defend. He’s tough. He’s got a curious mind. He’s got a quick mind. He reacts to stuff quick. There’s things that I can’t teach.
“Now it’s like, OK—I’ve had to tell he and Isaiah Briscoe and De’Aaron Fox, you’re taking most of the shots. Don’t you take a bad shot. You’re taking most of the shots, so don’t you ever take a bad shot. Those shots go to the other players on the team, so he’s gotta learn that. He took two bad shots, but let me say this, son: That’s better than 20 bad shots. Because there have been some of those now, too.”