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Few people know the kind of specific pressures Bentonville High senior Malik Monk went through leading up to the Wednesday announcement he would attend Kentucky, not Arkansas next year. Despite being only 17 years old, Monk has already spent a couple years in the limelight of Arkansas’ sports world on account of being one of the nation’s best young basketball players and the fact his older brother, Marcus, starred for the Hogs.
Photo courtesy of Position Sports
About 13 years ago, Ronnie Brewer went through a similar situation as a star basketball player for Fayetteville High. His father, Ron Brewer, had starred for the Razorbacks and many locals wanted Ronnie to follow in his footsteps. “I talked to numerous people who tried to force me go to go to so many different schools and some people were trying to force me to go to Arkansas. At the end of the day I wanted to make my own decision for me and what I thought was best for me.”
In the end, Ronnie Brewer decided playing for the Hogs was best for him. Although that wasn’t the case with Malik, Brewer says fans should not be angry at him or his brother. “If you’re a true fan, cheer for Arkansas through the good and the bad. Is this the end of the program? Absolutely not. If you’re a true fan support your team, show class,” Brewer says. “As a fan, who are you to tell this kid where to go?
The 30-year-old Ronnie Brewer has unique knowledge of the Monks’ situation not only because of his own past, but because he’s friends with both brothers. He has known Marcus, age 29, for years and spoke with both brothers the day of Malik’s announcement. Brewer shared some of his insight in a telephone interview on Wednesday. The below transcript has been modified and lightly edited for clarity.
Q: Since you know Marcus so well, did you try to persuade Malik to come to Arkansas, or did you only present facts when asked? What’s the balance there?
Brewer: I went through recruitment, so I know how stressful it is. I try to be like a leaning shoulder — if he needed to ask me about anything, what I thought about the school. I was there to talk about it, but it was more us talking about how he was doing in AAU and how he was doing in high school, the training, living in northwest Arkansas versus Lepanto, what he thought about the Arkansas basketball team…
I wanted to be more of a friend and a mentor than somebody who was trying to do a sales pitch to come to Arkansas. I told Marcus all the time “Hey, look, I want your little brother to come to Arkansas so bad.” He knew where I stood. We always said at the end of the day, it was going to come down to what he wants to do. [Marcus] can’t force him to go to Arkansas, he can’t force him to go somewhere else.
He’s saying that, and me and him have been talking about that since Day 1. Since he told me, “Hey, my brother is going to have a chance to be pretty good if he focuses in.” That’s the approach me and him have taken regarding trying to sell Malik on whether to go to Arkansas or not.
Q: Did it surprise you that Malik announced today as opposed to after the high school season is over?
Brewer: Yeah, I thought that if he did not go to Arkansas, he was going to announce it in the spring. At the same time, I can understand how stressful it is to have so many people calling your phone, everyday asking you, every day from the paper, every day from the radio, every blog, it’s got to get kind of annoying at times … why not just get that stuff off your shoulders and just enjoy being a kid?
Q: Do you think he will now incur a lot more wrath and booing from the crowds that will make it less enjoyable than it would be otherwise?
Brewer: Depending on what kind of player he is, it might not matter. Some people enjoy being booed. I didn’t mind going into hostile territories in high school, playing on the road and people booing. At the end of the day, they respected my game. The numbers spoke for themselves. By the end of the game, they were usually cheering for me because they liked the show I put on. I think it’s going to be the same story with Malik.
They can boo you at first, but you can’t downplay he’s a very talented basketball player who plays at a high level and is very exciting. You can’t take that away from him.
Q: In the last week, other big-time recruits who signed with Kentucky started aggressively recruiting Malik to join them. How big of a factor do you think that might have been in dissuading him from Arkansas?
Brewer: If you’re having a conversation about winning, I think ultimately that is what everybody wants to do. I don’t think anybody goes to a school wanting to lose… If you talk about winning and you see [top recruit] Jayson Tatum go to Duke, and then openly recruit Harry Giles, who is the No. 1 recruit in the country. Then Harry Giles goes there.
Harry Giles could have gone anywhere in the country. He made the decision ‘Hey, I’m going to go to Duke, because there’s this other kid going there. I can see us meshing well together. I think we can win together.”
Same thing in Kentucky. If a guy wanted to play with Malik. They see his skillset. They know he’s good. They want him to be on the team. Not to take anything away from [Arkansas] Coach Anderson’s recruiting — he did a great job going to get some really quality guys who can come in immediately and be impact players. Those guys are openly recruiting.
Why wouldn’t you want to play with Top 20 guys, on top of a team that is ranked #2 in the country, who gets national exposure, who produces multiple pros year in and year out?
It’s hard to say some negative stuff about [Kentucky] Coach Cal[ipari] because obviously he’s doing something right, because he is continuing to get these players coming in and playing at a high level.
Photo courtesy of Position Sports
Q: So overall, with the young stars of today, do you think that the name on the front of the jersey has come to mean less and less?
Brewer: I think so. You can be from a certain place and go to a team such as Kentucky or Duke, have just as much success and go to where you want to go in life. You don’t have to go to your local place. There are a lot of kids who grow up in a certain place, where they have been there their whole life and they want to get and see different things that they world has to offer.
Q: This morning several legit sources in the Arkansas sports media reported Malik had wanted to be a Hog but Marcus blocked him from committing. Are you concerned Marcus’ local reputation will take a lasting hit because these reports?
Brewer: … The type of person Marcus is, he would rather be the bad guy any day of the week, than make his brother out to be a bad guy, who is a 17-year-old kid, if that makes any sense. If they say he forced him to go to Kentucky and not Arkansas, and he’s not his guardian and not his parent – well, I don’t know any relationships where the [older brother] dictates where his brother goes and not the parent.
If the mother said he wanted to go to Arkansas, and the son said he wanted to go Arkansas, but his brother wouldn’t allow him to – that’s kind of weird to me. The report saying that Marcus did that – that’s kind of hard to believe – but I don’t think Marcus is going to throw his brother under the bus because he wanted to go to another school. He’d rather be the guy saying ‘Alright, that’s fine, if that’s want y’all want to say – that I forced my brother to go somewhere else than he wanted to go – then so be it.’
Q: Do you think it’s going to be more difficult for the Monks to return to their home in Lepanto with Malik as a Wildcat, and not Razorback, as far as community support and public reception go?
Brewer: No, I don’t think so. I think it’s more statewide that people are unhappy about him going to Kentucky. I think the people who know him from Lepanto regardless if he went to Kentucky or went to Arkansas, they’re going to love him regardless.
Marcus has done so much for that community. He’s such a positive role model for that community… People forget that Marcus went to school at Arkansas for four years, played football, played basketball, was on the honor roll academically, went back and got his MBA there. His face is on a brochure for the MBA program at Arkansas. He’s done a lot for the program, and just because of this decision they think it’s right to make him less of a person or shun him? It’s ridiculous.
Q: Do you expect Marcus will end up moving to Lexington next year?
Brewer: I don’t know what he’s going to do, man. I would think that it’d be very sad in our community if we shunned him to where he wouldn’t be able to put on these [high school basketball] tournaments and give support to the kids and the community. I think there is a lot of talent in Arkansas, and I think these kids need exposure.
He’s trying to do a good job by giving them exposure, and I think it’s going to be overlooked because Malik didn’t go to Arkansas.
Evin Demirel is a lifelong Arkansan and former Democrat-Gazette reporter who writes about local sports and culture. A few months ago, he penned a longform piece for SB Nation called “The Birth and Evolution of Brand Malik.”
For more insight from Ronnie Brewer on the Monks and the current Hogs basketball team, visit Demirel’s BestOfArkansasSports.com.
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