CAMDEN, N.J. — The NBA world will get to know De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk next season.
Isaac Humphries got to do that last season at Kentucky. The big man worked out for the Sixers on Friday, the day after Monk and the day before Fox is expected to come to town.
There is a chance Monk or Fox could end up on the Sixers with the No. 3 pick or through a draft night move. Wherever they land, Humphries sees both making an immediate difference on their new team.
“They’re incredible players,” Humphries said. “They’re really good people.”
Humphries was a sophomore when Fox and Monk entered the program last season. He was impressed by how quickly the two freshmen made an impact. They were the Wildcats’ top two scorers (Monk 19.8 points per game, Fox 16.7). Monk led the team in three-point shooting (39.7 percent) and Fox ranked first in assists (4.6).
“De’Aaron’s so quick, he’s so agile,” Humphries said. “He controls the floor so well. He can jump, he’s athletic, he’s a great leader. I loved played with him just because of how he can shoot the ball and creating for his team.
“Malik’s obviously such an impressive player, the way he shoots and the way he kind of controls games and kind of takes it all on his own hands. He’s one of those players that just takes over. He’s a real asset to any team.”
After one year in college, the pair of 19-year-old guards are poised to become top-10 draft picks next week. Humphries has seen firsthand their development in only one season.
“Something that kind of is crazy to see at Kentucky, especially being on the inside, is seeing the pure development of the young guys,” Humphries said. “They come in AAU’s top players and they leave kind of seasoned pros. It’s really cool to see the transition and how [head coach John Calipari] develops and breaks them down and gets rid of their bad habits and focuses on their little habits to perfect. Both of them had such growth.”
In addition to basketball talent, NBA organizations consider prospects’ character when making a decision. The Sixers go through several interviews with players at various points throughout the draft process. Humphries believes Fox and Monk have personalities that will positively influence the culture of a team.
“They both just love it so much and it’s really infectious,” he said. “I know for me, I’m always seen as the very serious type. It’s really cool to come into the locker room and joke around. It lifts a little bit of pressure because you’re all so comfortable.”
The Sixers have also worked out former Wildcats Isaiah Briscoe and Dominique Hawkins over the last two weeks. Fox and Monk are projected to become the new faces of Kentucky basketball in the NBA.
“Like every Kentucky pro athlete, they’re going to be special,” Humphries said. “Those two especially.”
CAMDEN, N.J. — Malik Monk is regarded as the best shooter in the 2017 draft. Don't label him as only that when he enters the NBA.
"I think I can do both, combo, on and off the ball," Monk said Thursday following with his workout for the Sixers.
Monk's offensive dominance spoke for itself during his single season at Kentucky. He averaged 19.8 points (45.0 percent from the field, 39.7 percent from three), 2.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists. Monk set a program record for most points scored by a freshman (754) and hit the third-most three-pointers by any Wildcat in a single season (104).
And yet, he's not relying on his scoring when he enters the NBA. Nor were the Sixers focusing solely on that skill set as they eye prospects for the third overall pick. The Sixers will have a need for versatile backcourt players next season with 6-foot-10 Ben Simmons running the point. Simmons watched Monk's workout with Joel Embiid and Robert Covington.
"I think the hope is that you can grow him. At his size, he's got to be a combo," vice president of basketball administration and 87ers general manager Brandon Williams said. "Particularly in today's NBA, you need players that can play multiple positions. So beyond the shooting is how much of shot creation for others does he have in his game."
Monk participated in an individual workout in which he competed against members of the Sixers' coaching staff. During the portion available to the media, Monk often found others in traffic and didn't take his shot off the first pass.
"Not that many people have seen my passing abilities," Monk said. "I think they're pretty good. I get people involved just like people can get me involved."
The Sixers wanted to observe Monk's creativity on the dribble and how he finished at the basket with both hands. Monk said he was born with a broken right collarbone, which forced him to learn the use of his left hand in addition to his right shooting hand.
"Could he do some things in tight spaces?" Williams said. "We wanted to see him challenged by shot blockers, trying to simulate that a little bit. We got a chance to see him use both hands, finishing at the basket. There's at least creativity to try some nice floaters with both hands, and those things guys get better at over time."
A full workout wouldn't be complete without evaluating both ends of the floor.
"This may be the first time that a shooter has done so much defense in a workout, but really important to see a full suite of skills," Williams said.
Monk, who's only 19, said his biggest area of improvement is how much he will need to learn about the NBA. He is ready to take on the challenge of guarding NBA players with his 6-foot-4, 197-pound build.
"People always are going to say what they want," Monk said (more on that here). "Some people said I couldn't play off the ball when I went to Kentucky. I think I did a pretty good job at that. I've just got to adjust and get in the weight room."
Monk already has worked out for the Suns (fourth pick), Magic (sixth) and Knicks (eighth) before coming to Philadelphia on Tuesday. He hasn't worked out for the Celtics (first) or Lakers (second) and does not have any other teams scheduled.
When asked if he believed he could be selected third overall, Monk showed the jovial personality he demonstrated the entire interview.
"I think I can go one, two, three. I think I can, but I'm probably not," he said with a laugh.
Another player who could get the Sixers' attention at No. 3 is Monk's college teammate De'Aaron Fox.
"He's coming Saturday," Monk said. "I talk to him every day. We don't even talk about the workouts. We just talk about the process and how much fun we're having."
The Sixers will work out six more players on Friday in between the two Wildcats (see story).
On the surface, Malik Monk would seem to be a perfect fit for the Sixers.
The one-and-done Kentucky guard showed off a lethal shot and the ability to light up the scoreboard on any given night. That would be a perfect complement to franchise pieces Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
There's something beyond his play that also seems to fit the city of Philadelphia: His attitude.
As anyone who's been around the city long enough knows, Philly is unlike any other. It's one of, if not the toughest place to play. Not because of the tired "They booed Santa Claus" narrative. But because Philly demands a certain attitude from its athletes.
So how would Monk, who is scheduled to work out for the Sixers on Thursday, handle his first bad game for the Sixers? How would he handle tough questions from tough reporters? How would he handle boos from over 20,000 fans?
"Monk ain't gonna give a rat's ass," his former AAU coach Ron Crawford said in his Southern drawl during a phone interview. "He could not have gone through what he went through [if he cared what people thought]."
Bentonville: The birthplace of Walmart As with most athletes, Monk's path to the NBA was not a straight line. He grew up in impoverished Lepanto, Arkansas. The poverty rate in Lepanto is 34.4, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data. To put that in perspective, the poverty rate in Philadelphia, which has plenty of its own issues regarding poverty, is at 25.8. A piece in the Commercial Appeal painted a decent picture of what Monk's hometown was like.
Monk honed his skills at "The Woodz," a local hoops hotspot not made for the timid. (A tattoo on Monk's chest commemorates the court.) As much as the court there toughened Monk up, it was not the greatest environment to grow up in. His older brother Marcus knew that.
A former Razorback football player, Marcus Monk was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 2008. After injuries prevented him from sticking in the NFL, he spent two years playing professional basketball in Germany.
Following a brief career overseas, Marcus came back to Arkansas and moved his younger brother and their mother to Bentonville when Malik was in ninth grade. Bentonville is the birthplace of Walmart and, according to Crawford, "You might as well have moved to New York City" compared to where Malik Monk grew up.
Monk remained a part of Crawford's Nike EYBL team, the Arkansas Wings Elite. But from an educational standpoint, the move was a big boost for Monk. That was likely the biggest reason Marcus, who was the valedictorian of his high school and completed the MBA program at Arkansas, wanted Malik to get out of Lepanto.
Bentonville High was also where Monk got to show off some of the toughness instilled by The Woodz.
'Hey, b----, that's 40' Jayson Tatum of Duke most likely will join Monk as one of the top selections in this month's NBA draft. Before achieving lottery pick status, Tatum and Monk went head to head in high school. Tatum, a St. Louis native, played at Chaminade College Preparatory School in Creve Coeur, Missouri.
Crawford remembers the fierce battles between Monk and Tatum. On Nov. 29, 2014, their high school rivalry began when Monk dropped in 45 in an 86-77 Bentonville win. In one of their more contentious clashes, Monk was scoring at will, and he let Tatum know about it.
"He told Jayson on the court, in Bentonville, 'Hey, b----, that's 40,' and almost started a fight," Crawford said. "Now that's Malik Monk."
Ben Smith, a forward who starred with Monk at Bentonville, recalls that game. He doesn't remember that exact phrase coming out of Monk's mouth but admitted that games against Chaminade were always chippy.
And that game, in particular, stood out.
"It was a heated game," Smith said in a phone interview. "It would not surprise me if [Monk said that] because he's a competitive player."
Monk and Tatum are actually close friends, but Crawford said Monk developed an attitude of "inside the lines there are no friends" from his days of playing in The Woodz.
Monk would need that kind of attitude as it came time to commit to a college.
'You're gonna be a Razorback' Monk was a five-star recruit. He set a Nike EYBL record with 59 points in a game as a 16-year-old. He broke numerous scoring records at Bentonville.
Everyone in the state of Arkansas wanted Monk to become a Razorback. His brother went there and even came back to coach there as a graduate assistant. It just made so much sense to everyone.
That is, except for Monk. He did what was best for him and committed to John Calipari and hated rival Kentucky.
"If he would've went to Arkansas he would've been beloved by everybody," Crawford said. "Everybody you meet or see in that northwest corridor expects you to be a Razorback. Your brother went to school there. Your brother's going to school there now. He's a coach on the Razorbacks. You're gonna be a Razorback."
Monk spurned the college in his home state, but it was easy to see why. Arkansas has made the Tournament just twice in the last nine years. It's been ranked only twice in the last sixteen years.
Calipari may be a polarizing figure, but the guy wins. And his best players routinely get drafted in the lottery. Last year, it was Jamal Murray. In 2015, Karl-Anthony Towns was the first overall pick. He was joined by teammates Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles and Devin Booker within the top 13.
So it was with that in mind that Monk joined the Wildcats. He came to Kentucky with the reputation of being a big-time scorer, but on a Saturday afternoon in December, Monk put the whole country on notice.
'We've seen that show before' In a 103-101 win over eventual national champion North Carolina, Monk poured in 47 points. He didn't just break Kentucky's freshman single-game scoring record (35), he shattered it. He hit 8 of 12 threes including two clutch treys in the final minute to seal the victory for the Wildcats.
It was one of the best college basketball performances in history, let alone for a freshman. While the rest of the country was taken back, Crawford felt like he was just watching the same old Monk.
"I got a call from a national writer that asked, 'Were you surprised?'" Crawford said. "I know he thought I was BSing. I said 'No, I'm not surprised,' because we've seen that show before. That wasn't a one-time deal."
Monk went on to break Kentucky's freshman scoring record set just a season ago by Murray. His 754 points were the sixth most by a freshman in NCAA history.
A perfect fit? Now it's onto the NBA with his Wildcat teammate De'Aaron Fox. Both players should hear their names called pretty early at Barclays Center on June 22.
The first two picks might be set, with the Washington's Markelle Fultz projected to go No. 1 to the Celtics and UCLA guard Lonzo Ball set to be picked by the Lakers. The draft should get interesting with the Sixers' pick at No. 3.
Kansas swingman Josh Jackson is probably the best player available. But from a pure fit standpoint, there might not be a better fit with Simmons and Embiid than Monk. Monk's jumper and his ability to score off the ball seem to fit Simmons' skill set as a 6-foot-10 point guard perfectly.
A concern could be ego. With Simmons and Embiid in the fold, will Monk be OK with playing third fiddle?
"I think he's the kind of player that can fit in wherever he goes," Smith said. "He's going to find a way to score the basketball regardless. And I don't think that he's the kind of player that's going to step in there and expect to be the star or stud, which is why I always loved playing with him. He's a great teammate."
With that said, Monk has his weaknesses. Crawford pointed to physical strength as the biggest thing Monk will need to focus on at the next level. Crawford also said he wouldn't "rate him as the best defensive player we've ever had."
But something that can get overlooked with Monk, is that he's crazy fast. Crawford acknowledged that he favors his jump shot (when you have one as sweet as his, who could blame him?) but that he has plenty of speed and the right mentality to get to the rim and finish. It's a skill that he just needs to develop.
"As Monk gets stronger, he'll get to that rim," Crawford said. "If he goes to Philly, he's gonna have some gaps to go through (playing next to Simmons and Embiid)...
"He is not afraid of contact. He has no fear. He just likes to shoot the three better than he likes to go to the rim. And he loves facializing people and he can do that."
Lasting impression Crawford had been in the AAU circuit since 1980 -- he actually retired last year. He's coached the likes of former Sixer Corliss Williamson and five-time NBA champ Derek Fisher. He's also coached current NBA players like the Bulls' Bobby Portis and the Kings' Skal Labissiere.
He first saw Monk in fifth grade and said he knew then that this kid had a chance to be something special. What Crawford loved more than the jumper, the lightning fast first step and the explosive finishes at the rim, was Monk's toughness and the willingness to get better. He said that Monk just loves the game but "hates to lose worse than he likes to win."
"Malik Monk, to say the least, is a very unusual blend," Crawford said. "A fierce competitor and very friendly kid off the court. He knows when he's in the fight and he knows when he's not."
Smith first saw Monk when Monk was a seventh grader. Like Crawford, he saw right away how special he was. When Monk joined Smith at Bentonville, Smith knew that he'd make an immediate impact. What seemed to stick with Smith more than anything is how great of a teammate Monk was and how much Monk was unfazed by outside noise.
So many star players get caught up in their own hype and take away from the team.
"Watching him play, I firmly believe, that nothing outside of himself affects how he plays," Smith said. "I never really saw it in a sense where the crowd or something outside was affecting how he played negatively. I think he could handle a tough media or a tough crowd no problem."