Monk Is Catching On With Hawgball

FAYETTEVILLE -That rotating bench of long arms and legs at Arkansas coach Stan Heath's disposal grew Thursday night.

By about 6 feet and 6 inches.

You know him better as the Hogs' all-time leading freshman receiver after he snatched 37 Matt Jones passes - including a team-best six for touchdowns -last season.

But Marcus Monk showed during the Hogs' 96-68 win against Tennessee State that he can play point guard. And the 2-guard. Small or power forward. Heck, he could be the center of attention for lots of teams.

"He can help us on the press, with rebounds, and he can play different positions like I can," said guard Ronnie Brewer. "He's another person that's really versatile on our team. I think he can come in and relieve a lot of players."

Monk, the Class AAA MVP from East Poinsett County High in little Lepanto, played just 7 minutes, but made a bigger impact than that or the 5 points might indicate.

He brought those of the 14,358 who remained in Bud Walton Arena to their feet as he caught a Mike Jones lob, then somehow slammed the alley-oop offering with four seconds left.

"I took a bad angle on it, I was a little too far under the goal, I just caught it," Monk said. "Mike threw a good pass. He put it like right on the money, so I had to go get it."

Not bad for a guy who had his first real practice a week ago today. He dressed out for the 72-60 loss against No. 1 Illinois in Little Rock on Dec. 4, then missed the 62-52 Dec. 7 win at Missouri because he was in New York City, representing the Midwest and giving a speech in front of American Football Coaches Association big-wigs as one of only four National High School Scholar-Athletes of the Year as named by the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame.

Sporting a headband pulled way low and the number 3 (Monk always wore No. 1 in high school and 3 is the lowest number available here), Monk checked in with 15:41 remaining in the game and with Arkansas leading 51-43.

"I wasn't sure if he was going to get in or not," Heath said. "The game was close and I didn't want to put pressure on him."

The crowd, most of it standing, went wild.

"I didn't think it would get that loud," Monk said. "I tried to stay calm, not make that many mistakes and try to help the team.

"I've been patiently waiting. I just know I'll fill in, get in when I can. I'm not expecting to just play major minutes right off the bat or anything. I'm not in a big rush or anything."

With his splayed fingers almost dragging the floor, Monk mostly put the clamps on tiny point guards Reiley Ervin and Eric King.

"I've got quick feet, so I can move," said Monk, explaining how he makes his points. "You've also got to have technique, play in front of 'em. It's really not that hard."

Said Heath: "He's just a natural at the defensive end."

Basketball shape, however, doesn't come naturally. Monk was surprised to find himself huffing and puffing after a few trips up and down the floor.

"I got winded a little sooner than I would if I was in good basketball shape," Monk said. "It's definitely going to take time. I'm just going to take my time. I'm not in a hurry. Whenever Coach wants me to go out, I'm going to try to go out and help the team.

"Coach told me to take my time coming back, so I'm just learning on the go right now."

Said Brewer: "He's just got to go out there and get used to it. I think with time he can really help our team."

Monk got a couple of deflections and made 3 of 6 free throws, sinking both after a snappy spin move around 6-8 forward Courtney Bohannon with 1:24 left. The slam was his only field-goal attempt.

"He didn't look uncomfortable at all," Heath said.

More important, Monk seemed to fit right in with his teammates. Before he toed the free-throw line the first time, junior transfer guard Dontell Jefferson patted his rear and spoke in his right ear. When play was stopped and the Hogs huddled while Monk was in, he was right in the middle of it. Literally.

"I've always been a part of the team since this summer," Monk said. "I know the players so well and everything and we're all brothers. So they just tell me to calm down and do what I can do. They give me confidence and that really helps.

"Every day in practice I'm getting used to the system and everything. I mean they treat me ... they help me. They help me at practice, all the coaches and players."

Heath said Monk's role will continue to grow. And it's fine with Monk if that's not by leaps and bounds anytime soon.

"Whatever Coach really needs -defensive stopper, some fouls off the bench, keeping my teammates hyped, cheering on the bench. Just whatever.

"I can improve a whole bunch. I know I can."

Monk was one of a dozen Hogs who played Thursday night.

It's getting really deep around here.

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