Coincidentally, both the current Arkansas Razorbacks, who are 8-2 on the season, and a definite recruiting target of the Razorbacks and probably the rest of college basketball, Bentonville’s Malik Monk, will be playing in central Arkansas on Saturday.
In fact, Ron Crawford, the AAU basketball organizer from Little Rock, suggests to diehard basketball fans that they taken in a half of Monk’s and Bentonville’s game against Little Rock Hall, tipping off at 5 p.m. at Maumelle High School, before making the journey over to Verizon Arena in North Little Rock, where Arkansas meets South Alabama in a 7 p.m. game.
Monk was the boys honoree as the Arvest Player of the Week at Friday’s Downtown Tip-Off Club luncheon at North Little Rock’s Wyndham Riverfront. Razorback coach Mike Anderson was the featured speaker at the event (the Tip-Off Club has regularly scheduled the UA coach to speak here the day before the Hogs’ annual visit to central Arkansas).
It’s a pretty good guess this type of scheduling isn’t coincidental. Anderson obviously has his Arkansas program back on the way up in year 3, and by year 6 he’d no doubt want Monk as one of the team’s talents; it doesn’t hurt to be in the same room as a highly sought recruit, even if the coach can’t actually “visit” with him. Monk is just a high school sophomore, but the 6-3 guard already has recruiting offers from most any basketball power one could name.
Monk transferred during the off-season from Class 3A East Pointsett County High in Lepanto to Bentonville, a Class 7A-West program.
Bentonville and Little Rock Hall will be one of five games in Saturday’s Arkansas Hoops Challenge at Maumelle’s terrific, still-almost-new gymnasium. The action starts at 2 p.m. with Pulaski Academy (which has a major college junior prospect) in action against Arkansas signee Trey Thompson and Forrest City, and it runs through the last matchup, Little Rock Parkview vs. host Maumelle. Also Monticello meets Clarksville at 3:30 and talented Jonesboro tangles with Fort Smith Northside at 6:30. A $10 ticket covers all the action.
Little Rock Parkview shocked loaded North Little Rock last weekend in the Jammin’ For Jackets championship game at Little Rock Hall’s Cirks Arena. North Little Rock, with Arkansas signee Anton Beard and the heavily recruited KeVaughn Allen, would be at Maumelle this weekend if not for having lined up a big trip against national competition in Milwaukee, Wis.
KINGSLEY RISING: Freshman center Moses Kingsley didn’t play at all against California in Arkansas’ Maui Invitational opener before Thanksgiving— Cal’s size inside was a big difference in that Razorbacks’ loss, and especially so without the 6-10 big man contributing. But beginning with 10 solid minutes in the next day’s game in Maui against Minnesota, Kingsley’s playing time has gradually increased.
He put it all together, albeit against one of the smaller teams the Hogs will play this season, in Thursday night’s 102-56 win over Tennessee-Martin in Fayetteville with 12 points and 12 rebounds in a season-high 20 minutes. He also had 3 blocks, no fouls and no turnovers.
“The great part about it is, as he’s gotten playing time he’s done something with it,” Razorbacks head coach Mike Anderson said Friday. “That’s what you want. That’s why you want your guys to respond, when they get the opportunity, to take it and run with it.
“As a freshman, you don’t put the pressure on those guys, you let them go at their own pace. Moses wants to go at it at a pretty fast pace. It’s good to see him sit there, maybe, and address some of the needs we have with our team, and he does that. He brings a size factor, a strength factor, he brings a defensive presence in the back, he rebounds the basketball. He’s got a great pair of hands. And, if you notice, he doesn’t turn the ball over a lot, so he makes good decisions from that standpoint.”
Kingsley played alongside Andrew Wiggins, now at Kansas, at Huntington (W.Va.) Prep last season and also was a teammate of Hog Bobby Portis on the AAU Arkansas Wings 17-and-under national championship team in 2012. He’s a native of Abuja, Nigeria, who moved to Mississippi to play American basketball. He was still considered a bit raw coming in this fall, but Anderson said he believes playing every day in practice against Portis, Coty Clarke and Alandise Harris near the basket “has really helped him.”
QUALLS’ QUALITY SHOWING: Clearly, the most improved Arkansas player returning from last season is sophomore swingman Michael Qualls, though junior guard Rashad “Ky” Madden would rate just slightly behind Qualls.
Qualls has nearly doubled his minutes per game to 25.7 and leads the team in scoring at 14.4 points per game. He’s shooting 56 percent from the field, 50 percent on 3-pointers (17 of 34) and 72 percent at the foul line. He also has 24 assists to 19 turnovers, and 8 blocked shots and 3 steals. His 5.2 rebounds per game ranks third on the team.
“I think from last year to this year playing, let’s say, 12 minutes to what he’s doing right now, he’s playing at a pretty good level,” Anderson said. “That’s a testament to him trying to round out his game. We all knew he was athletic, but now he’s athletic at one level and his skill level is beginning to come up to his athletic ability, and as he continues to elevate and it meets, you have a chance to have a special player.”
Madden, meanwhile, appears to have settled into his role running the offense from the point and has been in double figures in all four games this month, including a team-high 21 against Savannah State.
SCOUTING SOUTH ALABAMA: The Jaguars, who compete with UALR and Arkansas State in the Sun Belt Conference, are 6-5 on the season under first-year coach Matthew Graves, who was a 10-year assistant coach at Butler University, the NCAA Cinderella school in recent seasons.
Arkansas and South Alabama have one common opponent, Gonzaga, which beat Arkansas 91-81 in Maui and downed USA 68-59 in the “Battle of Seattle” last week. USA also lost to Texas 84-77 last month.
The Jaguars defeated John Pelphrey’s third team, the 2009-10 squad, 74-61 in Fayetteville. Pelphrey, as part of being let out of his contract to take the Arkansas job in 2007, was required to schedule a series with USA.
Arkansas is 5-1 all-time against the Jags, who return to central Arkansas on Jan. 9 to play UALR at the Jack Stephens Center.
Augustine Rubit, a 6-foot-7 power forward, is back for his fourth year in Mobile and is leading USA at 18.7 points per game. He’s the only Jag averaging in double figures, and is 0.2 off a double-double average, with 9.8 rebounds per game. Michael Ammons, a 6-6 forward, and guard Antoine Allen both average more than 9 points per game. Guards Ken Williams and Barrington Stevens are both in the 8-point-per-game range. Williams is the only newcomer to the starting lineup USA was using by the end of last season.
USA has hit nearly 38 percent on 3-pointers and has a plus-4.2 rebound differential, thanks to Rubit, who only takes 2 or so 3-pointers per game but is hitting nearly 48 percent of his tries. He had a game-high 35 points against Gonzaga. Allen is also capable of a big night, having scored 26 points at Rice.
NO ROAD PLAY YET: Arkansas played three neutral-court games in Maui, and the rest of its nonconference schedule was slated to be played in state. The Hogs don’t play on an opponent’s home court until the SEC opener at Texas A&M on Jan. 5. Arkansas has won just one league road game each of the past three years, and each time at Auburn. This year’s schedule for the Hogs did not include a trip into Auburn, so the biggest question fans seem to have still is whether Anderson can solve his team’s road woes.
“If you think of the guys that played well for us on the road [last year, it was more the newcomer guys. Say a guy like Coty [Clarke], Michael Qualls, Jacorey [Williams], those guys played well. And Rickey [Scott] at times played well,” Anderson said Friday.
“So if those guys played well, and with the new guys coming in, it doesn’t matter where we play at, they just want to play. It will be good to see, as we go out and play, to see what we bring to the table. Can we take the same mindset that we do at home on the road and win those games? When things aren’t going right who is the guy that’s going to pull us together? Will it be Ky [Madden], or Fred Gulley? Will it be a Kikko [Haydar]? Will it be Coty Clarke? Those are questions that still will be answered as we get to conference play.”
Even for the coach, it seems the jury is still out.