Documenting Malik Monk’s rise from small-town hero to 5-star recruit
Monk was raised in Lepanto, Arkansas, a small town near the Mississippi River about 40 minutes north of Memphis. He went to East Poinsett County High School in Lepanto in his freshman year, averaging 23 points and 5 rebounds per game.
Monk led East Poinsett all the way to the state championship game, where they lost to Cedar Ridge High School and future Lakers teammate Austin Reeves.
After his freshman year, Malik transferred to Bentonville High School on the opposite side of the state, about 30 minutes north of the University of Arkansas campus. The move was made so Malik and his mother can live closer to Marcus, who was a graduate assistant for the Arkansas basketball team at the time.
Much of the Lepanto community was hurt by the move. An article in the local Memphis newspaper, the Commercial Appeal, explained that Malik had to leave his hometown to have a better life for himself and his family.
"“Escaping Lepanto was always the goal. Malik just did it early,” said Ron Crawford, the longtime president of Arkansas Wings Elite, an AAU program both Marcus and Malik played for growing up. “He would’ve been the hero of the town, but he wasn’t learning anything. I know a lot of people, it hurt their feelings when Malik left, but it changed his life. It changed his life as far as his vision.”"
The Lepanto community was especially disappointed as Malik had followed his older brother Marcus Monk’s footsteps at East Poinsett. Marcus went to the Arkansas Razorbacks as a wide receiver on the football team and as a forward on the basketball team. Marcus eventually made it to the NFL and even played professional basketball in Germany for two seasons.
The expectation was that Malik was going to follow Marcus to the University of Arkansas and be the game-changing talent that would lead Arkansas to their first national championship in basketball since 1994. As there are no professional sports teams in the state, most Arkansas residents are extremely passionate about the Razorbacks.
Arkansas was so focused on signing Monk that the entire team watched several of his games at Bentonville High School. It was widely perceived that Monk would choose between Arkansas and the University of Kentucky, one of the most elite programs in college basketball and a longtime conference rival for the Razorbacks.
And the decision Monk made would forever change his life.