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2016 College Basketball Marathon: Evening Edition

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NEW YORK – Of all of the first-year talent on display during the Kentucky Wildcats’ win against the Michigan State Spartans to kick off the State Farm Champions Classic doubleheader, probably the fresh face that stood out the most involving that game didn’t wear blue nor green. Nor was he wearing a basketball jersey. He was armed with a digital recorder.

He was also 12 years old.

Max Bonnstetter, accompanied step-by-step by his supportive, camera-toting mother and possessing a knowledge of modern day college basketball rivaling that of any other media member covering the event, was sitting in the fourth row on the press conference room at Madison Square Garden and was able to ask the last question to Kentucky head coach John Calipari during the conference.

“How does [Kentucky freshman] Malik Monk compare to some of the great freshman that you have had at Kentucky?,” Bonnstetter asked.

Calipari, clearly impressed by the precociousness of the Sports Illustrated Kids reporter, started to banter with the young scribe.

“Do you think he’s better than John Wall?,” Calipari inquired, with joyous laughter emanating from the pool of reporters.

“Maybe,” responded Bonnstetter. Calipari quickly responded back. “Do you think he’s better than Michael Kidd-Gilchrist?”

“YES!,” Bonnstetter retorted, nodding his head assuredly. “Is he [Monk] better than…Anthony Davis?,” said Calipari.

“NO!,” Bonnstetter responded just as assuredly as the previous question with Kidd-Gilchrist. After Calipari asked the opinion of Bonnstetter about a couple of other fantastic freshman of Kentucky’s recent vintage, the 12-year-old brought the house down by showing off the one trait that was most appreciated by everyone in the room, reporter, coach and player alike: persistence.

“So…how does Malik Monk compare to some of the great freshman that you have had at Kentucky?,” Bonnstetter asked again, with laughter now coming from every corner of the room.

Like many of the freshman Calipari has coached, is there any way Bonnstetter can declare early for some amateur sports reporters draft? He’d definitely be a top pick.

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Speaking of young talent, it was Monk who stood out on the court for the Wildcats in the first game, leading all scorers with 23 points, including hitting seven of his 11 three-point attempts. To boot, he also had six rebounds, tied for tops on the team tonight.

Clearly not awed by the stage of playing inside of The World’s Most Famous Arena, Monk, the native of Jonesboro, Ark., set the tone by hitting three three-pointers in the first 6:38 of the contest, when Kentucky built an early lead that it would not relinquish.

“Coming from Arkansas, I was the top player in Arkansas; every game was packed for me,” said Monk, who broke out of a mini shooting slump to start his Wildcats career. “I had a lot of adversity because I committed to Kentucky. But, I was used to a lot of fans and all that stuff and adversity.”

Monk’s backcourt mate, Isaiah Briscoe, is part of the “old guard” as a sophomore, and, in a homecoming of sorts for him, he scored 21 points and made eight of his 15 shots from inside the three-point arc. The Newark, N.J. native thought about leaving after his freshman season to go pro before deciding against it and wanting to improve his game in Lexington before making the jump.

Calipari, when Briscoe was going back-and-forth on whether to leave for the NBA, gave him a dose of reality that helped him in his decision about his immediate basketball future. “Coach, I’m a shooter,” as Calipari described to us what Briscoe said to him once.” Cal’s response?

“Yeah, but you’re not a maker.” Briscoe’s stats from last season bear that out, as he shot below 44 percent from the field, made only five of his 37 three-point attempts and made only 46 percent of his free throws. Definitely not NBA ready, though Calipari his marveled a his growth between the end of last season and today, as well as his prospects going forward.

“What I’m proud of is that everybody who watched him in high school can’t believe he defends and rebounds the way he does,” said Calipari when talking about Briscoe last night. “He’s way more mature. He’s way more comfortable in how we’re playing. He has a will to win. And the good news for him, as his career goes on, everything is coming position-less. It just is.”

Before ending his press conference with the banter with Bonnstetter, Calipari also took a little time to share show impressed he was at his young team’s performance, with the Wildcats recording 17 assists on 23 made field goals.

They’re young, they’re on national TV and they share. That’s amazing”

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