Monk impresses UA staff

If you are talking up Marcus Monk to John Pelphrey or Rob Evans, you are preaching to the choir. Monk has given Arkansas basketball a lift in the last couple of weeks.

John Pelphrey heard lots of reports on Marcus Monk in the last two years, all good. Several included encouragement to consider putting Monk on the basketball team.

"You don't pay a lot of attention when someone tells you that down at the hamburger stand," said Pelphrey, the Arkansas basketball coach.

That changed when Nolan Richardson gave him the thumbs up during a recent visit about Monk.

"When he tells you that Monk can play, then you are going to listen," Pelphrey said. "Coach Richardson told me that he'd seen him play as a 10th grader and thought he was a better basketball player than he was at football."

Richardson was not alone. Unfortunately, Stan Heath didn't agree with that opinion. Heath, Pelphrey's predecessor, recruited Monk for a bit, then pulled his scholarships offer to allow Houston Nutt to scoop him up for football. The word on the street is that Monk would have signed a basketball offer with the Hogs had Heath maintained the recruiting heat.

That matches what I was told this week by someone familiar with the Monk recruitment from the UA football side. That source remembered that the basketball staff had Monk on hold when the football coaches arrived and offered. Perhaps Heath thought he could get Monk for free since he was promised he could play both sports while on football scholarship.

Rob Evans, veteran assistant on the UA cage staff, didn't see Monk play in high school or on the AAU circuit. But he got a call Thursday from someone who did.

"I just got off the phone with (former Ole Miss coach) Rod Barnes," Evans said. "He said he really wanted Monk. He said he thought he was going to get him until the Nutt boys got done. Rod told me that he thought Marcus was a much better basketball player."

Talking up Monk now to Pelphrey or Evans is like preaching to the choir. And, that was before his 12-point, 6-rebound performance in 20 minutes in a 96-88 victory over Oklahoma. Actually, Evans said he was convinced shortly after Monk began to practice in mid-December.

"I liked him in the first three or four days he was with us," Evans said. "You could tell he understood the game and was not going to make a lot of mistakes."

Told Monk was valedictorian of his high school class at East Poinsett County High School, Evans just nodded his head.

"I didn't know that, but I believe it," Evans said. "I tell you, we were in Osceola (near Monk's Lepanto home) recruiting and the people there just idolize Marcus. You have never heard anything like it. They talk more about him as a person than as a player. That was very impressive."

My favorite line, uttered on radio several times, is that Monk may be the brightest person on the plane when the basketball team takes to the road for SEC play.

The entire UA staff has spent time with Monk getting him up to speed with the Pelphrey system. Evans said it's been a delight.

"He is just so smart," Evans said. "He is so much fun to coach. He soaks up everything. On the bench, he's asking questions and taking in everything you say."

Pelphrey admits Monk played more minutes than he expected against the Sooners.

"Really, you can call me crazy, but we don't have a lot of options right now," Pelphey said. "You look over there and you've got Brandon Moore, Andre Clark, a golfer (Stephen Cox), a football player (Monk) or a walk-on (John Paul Noland).

"Marcus gives me confidence and that's a great place to start. For some guys, the game doesn't get too big. Maybe it helps Marcus that he's played in front of 80,000 to 85,000. He's gone across the middle and taken a hit. Maybe this is safer."

There's a lot still for Monk to learn. And, he's not in basketball shape yet.

"That's what I worried about the most, his condition," Pelphrey said. "He hasn't done this in several years. This is a whole different kind of shape. But he's not going to have to play 30 minutes for us. That's not going to happen. He is still learning, but he understands to ball screen for Courtney (Fortson) and then get out of his way."

The key is Monk's basketball instinct. "He finds loose basketballs and he understands help position (on defense)," Pelphrey said. "Some of the plays he made (against Oklahoma) were just instinct.

"He was able to play against the two (Griffin) brothers down low and it isn't like they knocked him out of the way. They didn't have their way with him."

Sometimes it just comes down to trust. "He looks you in the eye and says, ‘Yes, sir!'" Pelphrey said. "It can be as simple as that and giving good effort."

They liked that down at the hamburger stand, too. It's one of those Monk characteristics they still talk about in Osceola.

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