Charlotte loves Malik Monk.
More than 150 Charlotte Hornets fans escaped a steady, cold rain and waited under awnings of businesses around AAA Collectibles on Feb. 26 in downtown Matthews for the team’s rookie guard to arrive for a photo and autograph session.
Two of the first people in line were Brendan Boylan and Katie Linker of Shelby. The pair made the 90-minute drive to see their favorite Charlotte basketball player. What made their drive even more remarkable is the fact that Boylan and Linker attend almost every Hornets home game.
They know Monk well, so much so that the former Kentucky guard and Arkansas native greeted the pair by name when they brought a Kentucky jersey with Monk’s No. 5 on it and a poster to be signed. Of course, the pair had their picture taken with the player the Hornets drafted as the 11th overall pick in last year’s NBA Draft.
Monk was in town for the Panini NBA Player of the Day promotion that is staged at 400 hobby shops the next two months and awards 100,000 prizes, including the chance to spend a day with an NBA star. The last two grand prize winners spent the day with Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves) and Shaquille O’Neal. Panini is a leader in sports collectibles, trading cards and certified authentic memorabilia for the NFL, NBA, NASCAR, FIFA, MLB and NHL.
“I didn’t expect to see them here, but I do see them a lot,” Monk said of meeting two of his biggest fans. “It was nice seeing them. I love the turnout here.
“Charlotte loves me, and I can tell that they love me. I am just glad they have welcomed me.”
Monk’s first season hasn’t gone as planned as the rookie has played in 43 of the Hornets’ first 60 games while averaging 11.5 minutes a game. Monk, who was sidelined by an ankle injury during the NBA Summer League, is averaging 4.7 points a game.
“Season is not going the way I want it but I am always learning,” Monk said. “I am learning every day and I’m just trying to get better.”
Boylan and Linker are season-ticket holders and making an extra trip to Matthews was no big deal to see a player that they feel is going to become an NBA superstar.
“We go to every game and we talk to Malik a little bit before just about every game,” said Boylan, who attends Gardner-Webb University. “I fell in love with the way he played the game (at Kentucky).”
Boylan said he was thrilled when he found out that the Hornets had taken Monk in the first round of last year’s draft.
“I was on my way back from a baseball game in Georgia and I was with my parents at the time,” Boylan said. “I couldn’t find the draft on the radio, so I kept my ESPN app on my dashboard and I saw he fell to 11th. I said, ‘(Charlotte) you can’t screw this up, you can’t screw this up and you have to take Malik, you have to take Malik.’ As soon as I updated it, I had a good time to say the least.”
Doug Drotman, who is a spokesperson for Panani, said Monk was selected for the promotion because he is a rookie with a high ceiling.
“Each year we kick off the event with a player appearance and we picked AAA Collectibles,” Drotman said. “Once we selected a local store, we picked Malik. He has done a lot of events for us throughout the year and fans love rookies. Rookies are exciting to collect. Their future is bright and it is nice to get players before they are superstars. It’s a great fit and Malik enjoys being out among the fans.”
Monk went back to Arkansas over the recent All-Star break and he learned he would be receiving a special honor from his alma mater. Bentonville High School plans to retire his jersey next basketball season.
Monk played his freshman season of high school basketball at East Poinsett County High in Eastern Arkansas before moving to Bentonville in Northwest Arkansas for his final three seasons. One of the first things Monk did after signing with the Hornets was to buy basketball shoes for the boys and girls basketball teams at East Poinsett County and Bentonville.
“It’s a great honor because I don’t think Bentonville has ever retired a jersey,” Monk said. “I went back last week and they have a picture of me hanging up with all the things I did in my high school career and my college career at Kentucky. I will need to get back for that ceremony.”
Monk is feeling the love everywhere.