The last few days for Coach Cal and Co. have been very kind. Tuesday morning at 9:30 a.m., Bam Adebayo (6’8, 235, Power Forward, 6th in ESPN’s 100) told the nation on Mike & Mike that he would be taking his talents to Kentucky. Tuesday evening, the Cats thoroughly dominated Duke in the first bout of the Champions Classic, 74-63. Then, on Wednesday morning, word began to leak out that Malik Monk (6’3, 185, Shooting Guard, 5th in ESPN’s 100) would join Adebayo, (Fox, Gabriel, and Jones) at UK, effectually wrapping up the Wildcat’s 2016 class by the fall signing date. That rumor was confirmed as truth just a little after 11:00 a.m., when Monk posted on his Twitter account, “…I will be continuing my maturation as a student athlete at the University of Kentucky.” All of the good news has been most exhilarating for the Big Blue Nation.
However, the latter cause of the exhilaration provoked a large-scale meltdown in the University of Arkansas’ fan base. Monk, an Arkansas native, was heavily recruited by the home state school. Electing to go to Lexington instead of Fayetteville felt like a betrayal to the Razorback faithful. Their fans on Twitter made sure he knew it. Even Bobby Portis, former Razorback forward, chimed in the online conversation, hurling a backhanded insult Kentucky’s direction.
With all comments considered in the fanatic fiasco, what may be most striking in all of this, is the tirade of sportscaster, Mike Irwin. On a popular Arkansas radio show, Irwin first praised Razorback fans for their hateful behavior saying, “They are reacting just fine.” He accused Monk of receiving favors from people in and around the program, presumably in exchange for his attendance at Arkansas. He expressed serious distress that Monk was not forthright with his wishes to go to Kentucky two or three years prior (when he was, at most, fifteen years old), before all of Arkansas’ hospitality. He went on to describe his disdain for John Calipari. He called the NCAA a joke for allowing Calipari to recruit and build his teams on “one and done” student athletes. He said Coach Cal’s mentality is that he believes that he is the only one “sleazy” enough to do it, therefore he chooses to take full advantage of it. He went on to emphatically state, “I can’t stand (Calipari). I can’t stand what he’s doing.” He accused Monk of “playing everyone”, which he finds disgusting. Irwin reiterated that Monk should have been honest, again insinuating that Monk had made a college decision years prior as a young teenager. He said he would have no issues if Monk had chosen Duke, UNC, or Kansas, somehow oblivious to the fact that all three of the institutions he mentioned also recruit “one and done” athletes. He then accused Calipari of turning college basketball into trash. Before closing, he reiterated Monk’s treason, said choosing Kentucky is “the one place that is unacceptable,” and suggested that he change his residence outside of Arkansas because if a professional basketball career did not materialize, his dismissal of Arkansas’ scholarship would cause him to never find a career inside the state.
It was quite the temper tantrum. Stunning were the hate filled words that spewed from Arkansas’ fan base and their ring leader, Irwin. They must not realize that the Big Blue Nation knows precisely how they feel. Does Damien Harris ring a bell? Harris, the five-star running back out of Madison Southern, was heavily recruited by Mark Stoops. All signs pointed to Kentucky having a real chance at keeping the homegrown kid in-state even though he was also being courted by football powerhouse, Alabama. When he made his decision, the cards did not fall UK’s way. Damien Harris committed to the University of Alabama. Of course, every fan base has their bad apples. Surely some distasteful comments were hurled his direction, However, the vast majority Big Blue Nation wished him well (or, at least ignored him completely), even with broken hearts. Kentucky fans do know how Arkansas fans feel. It’s rare when our state produces five-star athletes and it stings when they leave for greener pastures, but that is the nature of the beast. This is how college athletics work. These elite student athletes are not confined to their home state nor are they forcibly relegated to the teams that could make use of their talents best. They pick. They choose. They decide.
It must be terribly disappointing for Arkansas and their fans to have a player they want so desperately slip through their grasp, but the type of reaction they displayed is simply unacceptable; particularly when one includes the fact that Malik Monk is a mere seventeen years old and has every right to make whatever decision he feels is best for him and his bright future.
Arkansas may never welcome Malik back with open arms, but one thing that can be said for Kentucky is “once you are a Cat, you are always a Cat”. He will be gladly received in Lexington and beyond. He can make a new home with a new family; the Big Blue Nation family.
Congratulations to Malik Monk of his commitment to the Kentucky Wildcats. The BBN looks forward to watching him shine!