Monk Excited About First Practice

FAYETTEVILLE — Officially back in Razorbacks gear for the first time since Arkansas' Cotton Bowl loss on Jan. 1, Marcus Monk chatted with reporters Thursday in Bud Walton Arena and smiled often. The school's all-time leader in touchdown catches was back on a basketball court and couldn't contain his excitement.

For several years, since giving up hoops after his freshman season at Arkansas, Monk still satisfied his basketball fix. He played pickup at the HPER building. He even won back-to-back intramural championships.

"I always played," Monk said.

Basketball was only a hobby for Monk then. Not anymore. The former football star, who led East Poinsett County High to the 2004 Class AAA state basketball title, participated in his first practice Thursday. Eligible for only for the rest of this season, Monk said he showed up ready to contribute in any way asked by coach John Pelphrey.

Pelphrey, who immediately supported the possibility of Monk's return, said the 6-foot-6 Lepanto native would suit up for Arkansas' game Saturday night against Stephen F. Austin. As for playing time, Pelphrey said determining Monk's on-court role, if any, would take time.

"It'll be interesting to see how it goes," Pelphrey said. "I'm probably not going to learn everything I need to know from (Thursday's) practice.

"It's going to take all of us some time to get comfortable, to get a confidence level in what he can or can't do, where he's capable of playing or not playing. It's going to be a process. But it's going to be interesting to see."

Monk's unlikely return to basketball seemed so improbable just three or four months ago. The Chicago Bears drafted him in the seventh round of the NFL Draft in April. After being released by the Bears late in the summer, Monk considered an immediate return to Fayetteville before being picked up by the New York Giants.

The Giants cut him on Sept. 8, so Monk moved back to the area. When he arrived, Monk said Arkansas assistant strength and conditioning coach Kelly Lambert floated the idea of joining the basketball team.

"I was thinking about coming back to school and taking a year off from football and getting my knee better and lifting and everything," Monk said. "Coach Kelly said there might be an opportunity to play. It was a win-win situation."

Monk, who graduated in 3 1/2 years, said he wants to start working toward a Master's degree while trying to add depth and leadership for the Razorbacks. He said he enrolled in finance and real estate classes for the spring semester and would also spend time studying for the Graduate Management Admission Test.

Regardless of how many minutes Monk plays, basketball will give him a way to stay in shape as he works toward another run at the NFL next year. His surgically repaired right knee kept him from playing in six football games in 2007 and limited him during his stints with the Bears and Giants.

Monk said he still feels slightly less than 100 percent health-wise.

"I'm getting there," Monk said. "I'm just getting my lower body stronger, getting my thighs stronger."

During the 15 minutes of practice open to reporters Thursday, Monk displayed many of the physical skills needed to compete in the Southeastern Conference. He didn't always know where to go, but Monk showed he could at least challenge for playing time on a roster whittled down to 10 scholarship players.

After all, former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson told Pelphrey he always thought Monk "was a better basketball player than football player."

Monk, who called basketball "fast-paced and fun," laughed when told that Richardson shared those feelings with Pelphrey.

"He always says that when he sees me," Monk said. "Nolan was recruiting me really tough when he was here. That's a compliment from a guy like that."

Several of his new teammates also praised him just before partaking in their first workout with Monk. Freshman point guard Courtney Fortson said he expected his interaction with Monk to stretch beyond the basketball court.

During the past month, Fortson said he had enjoyed getting to know Monk, now the Razorbacks' lone senior.

"He's been around," Fortson said. "He knows what it takes to win. I think he can bring senior leadership and help a lot of the younger players. It'll be great."

Marcus Monk

Class: Senior

Position: Guard/Forward

Height: 6-foot-6

Weight: 220 pounds

Hometown: Lepanto

High School: East Poinsett County High

Notable: Left the Arkansas football team in 2007 as the school's all-team leader in touchdown catches (27), was drafted by the Chicago Bears in April and spent some time this fall in the New York Giants' camp. ... Played basketball for Arkansas his freshman season, scoring 10 points in 83 minutes. ... Led his East Poinsett County team to the 2004 AAA state title after averaging 20.8 points, 16.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 3.8 blocks and 2.8 steals.

Saturday's Ticket

Stephen F. Austin at Arkansas

When: 7:05 p.m.

Where: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville

TV: KFTA (Cox Ch. 8)

Radio: KEZA-FM 107.9, KKEG-FM 92.1, KUOA-AM 1290

Records: Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks, 6-2; Arkansas Razorbacks, 7-1

Coaches: Stephen F. Austin, Danny Kaspar (ninth season); Arkansas, John Pelphrey (second season)

Series: Arkansas leads 2-0 (The Razorbacks won 70-59 last season in Fayetteville)

Jim Thorpe Classic

At Bud Walton Arena

Wednesday's Result

Arkansas 89, Austin Peay 80

Tonight's Game

Stephen F. Austin vs. Austin Peay, 7:05 p.m. (free admission)

Saturday's Game

Stephen F. Austin at Arkansas, 7:05 p.m.

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