Whitt, Monk Set for ESPN Event in Bentonville

Bentonville will host the ESPN 99.5 Classic on Nov. 29 - an event that will be highlighted by Arkansas commit Jimmy Whitt, a pair of top five juniors in Bentonville's Malik Monk and St. Louis' Jayson Tatum and 7-1 freshman Connor Vanover of Arkansas Baptist.

On the same Thanksgiving weekend that Arkansas and Missouri meet in a college football game that has been dubbed ARMOgeddon, some of the best high school basketball talent in the two states will hook up as well.

That will happen in the ESPN 99.5 Classic om Nov. 29 at 5 p.m. in Bentonville.

Columbia, Mo. Hickman and star Jimmy Whitt – a top 55 player nationally per Scout.com who is scheduled to sign with the Razorbacks in the Nov. 12-19 early signing period – will leads his team against Arkansas Baptist. at 5 p.m.

Arkansas Baptist featured 7-1, 180-pound freshman Connor Vanover, one of the nation’s most intriguing young prospects.

The other game will be at 7 p.m. and will feature two of the nation’s top five juniors in Bentonville shooting guard Malik Monk (6-4, 190) and St. Louis Chaminade small forward Jayson Tatum (6-7, 190).

Tatum is the top-ranked player in the class per Scout.com, Monk is fifth in the organization’s ratings while Chaminade’s 6-8, 240-pound power forward Tyler Cook is another Top 75 junior nationally.

It is an event that excites Bentonville head coach Jason McMahan, whose team will host a benefit game against Conway on Nov. 20.

“The one thing that I have learned is that when you have a player the caliber of Malik it opens up a lot of things for your team,” McMahan said. “We had a lot of people wanting us to come to their tournament and do things like this thing with ESPN.

“It should be a great deal for our school, our area and just anyone who is a big high school basketball fan,” McMahan added.

Whitt is ranked as the 53rd-best player nationally in the 2015 per Scout.com and committed to Arkansas back on August 19.

He pledged to the Razorbacks over Missouri, SMU, Marquette and Illinois and a host of other options.

“Being able to build that relationship for so long … it translated when they saw how much I was progressing as a basketball player,” Whitt said. “It’s not like other colleges where they’ve only seen me for a little bit. They’ve seen me from when I was nothing to what I am now. The progression and the potential I have, they’re able to see all of it.”

Whitt averaged 22.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 4.4 steals last season for the Kewpies (27-3) and leading them to the Class 5A state runner-up finish.

He had 29 points and 7 steals in the title game, an overtime loss to Christian Brothers College.

Whitt is the only one of five starters returning for Hickman, who lost in the state semifinals when he was a sophomore.

“Like Arkansas, we like to play fast-paced,” he said. “We like to get up and down the court. We like to create havoc on the defensive end by pressing, getting our hands on balls. That’s comfortable for me. That’s where I’m at my best.”

He led the KC Run GMC squad to a 14-2 record in the Under Armour Association scheduled and then into the UAA championship game while averaging 17.1 points.

Both Whitt and Vanover – who was at Arkansas’ Elite Camp in August – were two of 53 recent participants in a recent USA Basketball mini-camp in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The event was held Oct. 4-5 at the United States Olympic Training Facility and helps to evaluate players for the 2015 Nike Hoop Summit, 2015 FIBA Americas U16 as well as for the 2016 FIBA U17 World Championship and 2016 U18 Championship teams.

Vanover, who will play his first high school season this year alongside his 6-10 older brother and has grown seven inches in the last year, was the tallest player invited to event.

The 2018 prospect played AAU basketball for the 2017 Arkansas Wings this spring and summer and also was one of the top players at John Lucas’ International Middle School Combine in Houston.

Sports writer Frank Burlison – who has been covering recruiting since the 1970s – offered up this assessment of Vanover after the event.

“Tallest among all of the 48 players in attendance was 7-1 (without shoes) Connor Vanover of Little Rock, AR, Baptist seemed to gain more confidence and effectiveness every 10 minutes or so over the weekend,” Burlison said.

“He’s something well beyond “thin” at a listed 180 pounds,” Burlison added. “Sixty or 70 pounds from now Vanover is going to be commanding a whole lot of double teams and disrupting opposing offenses with his shot-altering potential being backed up by the now oh-so-lean and oh-so-lengthy youngster.”

While Vanover is just becoming a household name in Arkansas, Monk has already established himself as one nationally.

Arkansas, Kentucky, Florida, Memphis, Baylor and Indiana are just some of the schools that have offered the younger brother of former Arkansas football and basketball star Marcus Monk.

Monk’s play this spring and summer for the Arkansas Wings AAU squad moved him into the fifth spot in Scout.com rankings.

“A 6-foot-4 wing, Monk’s best attribute may be his athleticism,” Scout.com analyst Evan Daniels noted. “He’s elite in that regard. But he’s made significant improvements to his overall scoring package and has turned into a perimeter threat. He has significant upside and is showing consistent improvement.”

Bentonville is also set to play in the 42nd annual City of Palms Classic in Fort Myers, Fla., on December 18-23 at Bishop Verot High School.

When Bentonville became available for the event, Classic vice president Donnie Wilkie decided to have 17 teams instead of the normal 16.

The event will feature a trio of top 25 prospects in the 2015 class in LSU commit Ben Simmons of defending champion Montverde Academy Antonio Blakeney of Orlando Oak Ridge and Marietta, Ga., Wheeler standout Jaylen Brown.

Monk heads up the top 2016 prospects in the event along with 6-10, 255-pound Udoka Azubuike of Jacksonville Potter House Christian.

Another top player in the event is 6-10 sophomore center DeAndre Dayton of San Diego Balboa City.

“It really is quite an honor to be invited,” McMahan said. “It is one of the best tournaments there is.”

Tatum and Monk were both invited to the LeBron James camp last summer and while the pair and Cook were on hand recently for Kansas’ Late Night in the Phog.

Tatum has only cut his list to a Top 10 so far with Arizona, Duke, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, St. Louis, UConn and Wake Forest making the cut.

He averaged 26 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals last season as a sophomore for Chaminade.

“Tatum is one of the elite high school basketball prospects,” Scout.com analyst Evan Daniels said. “He has tremendous size for the wing position, has a lengthy set of arms and is a solid all around athlete.

“Tatum has impressive ball skills, is a good passer and has a terrific overall feel for the game,” Daniels added. “Scoring wise, he can make shots out to 22-feet, but he’s also effective in isolation situations when he can take defenders off the dribble for mid-range pull-ups or finishes at the rim.”

Cook averaged just 9.7 points and 6.7 rebounds last season for Chaminade, but saw his stock rise during the spring and summer.

He now has offers from St. Louis, Iowa, Kansas, Kansas State, Miami, Michigan, Purdue and Illinois State.

Malik Monk

Connor Vanover

Jayson Tatum

Tyler Coook

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