The Kentucky Wildcats’ season came to a disappointing end when they fell to Indiana in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, which was Kentucky’s worst Tournament showing since 2008. Fortunately for the Wildcats, they have a very strong class of recruits coming into the program who are looking to make up for this season’s disappointing finish.
On Wednesday, four future Wildcats participated in the annual McDonald’s All-American game. Basketball Insiders caught up with Edrice Adebayo and Malik Monk to discuss the significance of being a McDonald’s All-American, their respective decisions to commit to Kentucky and expectations for next season, among other things.
“It’s a blessing. I’ve been chosen amongst a lot of people in this nation, I’m just glad I can be one of them,” Adebayo told Basketball Insiders when asked what it means to him to be a McDonald’s All-American.
Standing 6’9 and weighing in at 240 pounds, Adebayo (nicknamed “Bam Bam” by his mother) is an athletic big man who should add physicality and skill to the Wildcats’ frontcourt. He was the only player in Wednesday’s exhibition to register a double-double, scoring 16 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.
When asked how his game will mesh with his fellow recruits and teammates next season, Adebayo expressed confidence that it would be natural fit.
“We like to run and gun and I like to run,” Adebayo said. “Everybody has a motor, everybody loves playing together, so it’s not a hard fit for everybody.”
Kentucky has been pumping talented big men into the NBA over the last few years, such as Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel, Julius Randle, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns, which caught Adebayo’s attention in the recruiting process.
“It did because when you see what [Coach Calipari has] done with all the big men, you can’t complain with his philosophy of basketball,” Adebayo said when asked whether the success of Kentucky’s past big men had any influence on his decision. “I look at everybody’s big man and I see [his are the ones that are] most improved and that are staying in the league, so it wasn’t a hard adjustment to go with Coach Cal.”
While Adebayo’s focus is predominantly on basketball, he is also a solid student, which is a product of his mother’s influence.
“[Getting good grades] means a lot because the basketball don’t bounce forever,” Adebayo said when asked about the importance of doing well in school. “So I always got to have a backup plan. My mom always told me to take grades serious, so that’s what I’ve been doing.”
Adebayo wasn’t the only future Wildcat to put on a good showing on Wednesday. Malik Monk had a decent outing himself, scoring 11 points and dishing out four assists in the West’s 114-107 victory over the East. Monk was the last of these current recruits to sign with the Wildcats as he was deciding between Kentucky and Arkansas, where his brother played football and basketball.
“My decision was based on what was best for me, not anybody else,” Monk said when asked whether he was waiting to see which other recruits would sign with Kentucky. “I was just trying to do what was best for me. I mean, it had a little bit of an impact, but it really wasn’t that much.
Despite downplaying the significance of knowing which other recruits were signing with Kentucky, Monk seems genuinely excited about this year’s class of recruits.
“I really can’t even see it, I can’t picture it right now, it’s too crazy.” Monk said. “But all of us are blessed to go to one of the best schools in the nation to play basketball with one of the best coaches, so we’re just going to have fun and play basketball.”
Monk has a well-rounded game, but at 6’3 is a little undersized to play shooting guard in the NBA. But Monk doesn’t think that is an issue, especially since so many shooting guards now handle the ball and play lead guard at times.
“You’re going to have to play both positions in the league, you have to play multiple positions, and I can do that, so I don’t feel like I’m undersized or anything.”
Some have compared Monk’s game to Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, which is certainly high praise. However, Monk pushes back on that comparison, showing extreme confidence in himself.
“People said I play like Russell Westbrook. I say I play like Malik Monk.”
Regardless of whether he plays point guard, shooting guard or is in fact comparable to someone as good as Westbrook, Monk is certainly capable of making a big impact next season, which he is eagerly waiting for. When asked what he is looking forward to most, he pointed towards the high-energy crowds.
“Just the packed house every night,” Monk said. Every game, packed house, the crowd going crazy.”
After going 27-7 and falling in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Coach Calipari and his squad have a lot of work to do to bounce back next season. With a loaded recruiting class, Kentucky is well-positioned to turn things around and get the program back on track.
“We’re just looking to pick up from where we left off,” said Adebayo. “They left off short, we’re looking to pick up and add on.”
Make sure to follow Basketball Insiders on Twitter at @BBallInsiders.