While Arkansas does not compare to North Carolina as a hot bed of high school basketball talent, I was fortunate to cover some pretty good high school basketball players in my nearly 32 years as a sports writer for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
That list includes first-round NBA draft picks Corliss Williamson (Arkansas, Sacramento), Ronnie Brewer (Arkansas, Utah), Joe Johnson (Arkansas, Boston), and Derek Fisher (Arkansas-Little Rock, Los Angeles Lakers).
I got to see a lot of Williamson (Russellville High) and Brewer (Fayetteville High) over their high school careers as the school I covered, Rogers High, was in the same conference as Russellville and Fayetteville.
But the best player I had the opportunity to cover is coming to Charlotte. His name is Malik Monk and Charlotte fans are in for a treat.
From the day Monk stepped on the court at Bentonville High School it was obvious he was about to arguably become the best player to come out of Arkansas in a long time, possibly ever.
Monk’s one year at Kentucky was a memorable and well-documented one, but his high school career was equally amazing.
For those that don’t know, Monk was a star his freshman season at a small Class 2A school called East Poinsett County. Monk resided in a town called Lepanto in Northeast Arkansas, which also produced hs brother, Marcus, years earlier.
Marcus Monk was an All-SEC wide receiver for Arkansas that was drafted in the seventh round of the NFL Draft in 2007. Marcus Monk, who also played part of two seasons with the Razorbacks basketball team, even spent time on the Carolina Panthers roster although he never played a game for the Panthers before being waived.
But after his freshman season, Malik Monk and his family upped and moved to Class 7A Bentonville High School in Northwest Arkansas. Bentonville is home to the Walmart Home Office in ever growing Benton County. Northwest Arkansas is also home to Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt Trucking.
One of Bentonville’s main rivals is Rogers High as the two towns border one another.
Monk averaged 22 points as a sophomore, 26.6 points as a junior and 28.6 points as a senior for Bentonville. Time and time again, Monk delivered incredible game-winning shots.
Henry Apple was a colleague of mine at the Democrat-Gazette and he had the privilege of covering Monk on a daily basis for three seasons. Apple said Monk was at his best when playing against other high-caliber players.
In one game his junior season, Monk scored 50 points in a 86-73 loss against a Chino Hills (Calif.) team that featured current Los Angeles Lakers player Lonzo Ball. Ball scored 17 poinst, 15 rebounds and 12 assists in that contest.
Against former Duke player and current Boston Celtics player Jayson Tatum and St. Louis Chaminade that same season, Monk scored at the time a Bentonville single-game scoring record with 45 points.
“When there was another heralded player just as good as he was on the court, Monk always turned it up a notch,” Apple said. “When he was playing against Jayson Tatum, that was a game that night.
“How he broke the record, Monk took the ball at midcourt, he hesitated and then took off and blew past Tatum for a thunderous dunk. That opened my eyes. That was one of the best high school match-ups that I have seen.”
Wayne Herren was the basketball coach at Rogers High during Monk’s time at Bentonville and he said Monk is the best player he has ever coached against. Herron also spent 18 seasons coaching in the Little Rock area in central Arkansas.
“Things seemed so effortless to Malik,” Herren said. “It was like his feet never hit the floor, he would just glide from place to place. Malik has all the tools. Malik will be a great player in the NBA.”
And that is good news for Charlotte fans.