Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Fox, Monk Propel Kentucky to Champions Classic Win over Michigan State
NEW YORK – Elite freshmen are the staple of John Calipari’s teams at Kentucky.
On Tuesday night at the Champions Classic, it was no different.
Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox, playing in just their third collegiate games, were the catalysts behind No. 2 Kentucky’s 69-48 win over No. 13 Michigan State at Madison Square Garden.
Both five-star recruits, Fox and Monk – ranked sixth and ninth respectively in ESPN’s 2016 recruiting class – used the nationally televised game as a stage to show their NBA skill level. More than 100 NBA personnel were on hand for the game. DraftExpress.com currently has Monk slated to go 11th and Fox 12th in next June’s draft.
After making just three shots from three-point range in his first two contests, Monk connected seven times from downtown on 11 attempts, leading all scorers with 23. Sophomore Isaiah Briscoe scored 21 points in his return home to the New York area and continues to provide valued leadership to the frosh.
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo called Monk “the difference in the game.”
“You have to give Monk credit,” Izzo said. “He was three for, I think 13 (from three-point range) going in and he hit some big threes early unguarded on the break, which they’re very, very good at and then just got going and goes 7-for-11.”
A wing player from Arkansas, Monk came into Tuesday’s contest against Michigan State trying not to be “casual” as he says Calipari likes to refer to his shot.
“Staying low, staying in my shot, every shot the same, trying to focus on every shot being the same,” Monk said. “Just be smooth.”
Briscoe said after the game that he “knew (Monk) was due for a good game shooting-wise, and I told him that before the game. He shot well.”
Fox, while shooting just 3-for-10 from the from the floor, connected on all six of his attempts from the charity stripe on his way to 12 points. The 6-3 guard contributed in many other ways Tuesday night, dishing six assists, grabbing four rebounds and adding a block and steal to his stat sheet.
The super athletic Fox rivals a former Kentucky point guard who currently plays some pro basketball in Washington, according to Calipari.
“He (Fox) is so fast,” Calipari said. “I told John Wall he’s faster than John Wall, he didn’t believe me. John Wall said ‘Yeah, right.'”
For two of his super-freshman to deliver on a big stage in New York City against tough competition, Calipari spoke of preparation and mindset.
“He had an unbelievable shoot around,” Calipari said of Monk “Getting him and De’Aaron to not be casual, they think they’re getting ready for an AAU game, they’re hungry they need a hot dog right before the game ‘Can I get something to eat?’ What are you talking about? These guys play casual, they practice casual, and that’s what we gotta teach them, you can’t be that. You have to have another habit. You gotta create a habit of really getting after it.”
Specifically speaking of Monk’s shooting performance, Calipari said, “He had one of the best shootarounds that any of my players have had in the past few years. I expected he would go in and play well.”
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