De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk have yet to play together in a college game, but the backcourt duo has been a long time in the making. At the beginning of the year, I traveled to Katy, Texas and Bentonville, Arkansas to interview De'Aaron and Malik for KSR's Next Five series, and, even then, when asked what they were looking forward to most at Kentucky, both said playing with each other.
“It’ll be extremely exciting to play with [Malik]," Fox said in February. "I’ve never played with anybody as fast or athletic as me in the same backcourt, so that’s definitely going to be fun."
When did this backcourt bromance begin? Over a year ago, in August 2015, when the two played alongside each other at the Nike EYBL Training Camp in the Bahamas. At the time, Fox -- who committed to Kentucky that November -- knew he was probably headed to Lexington, and went so far as to start recruiting Monk to come with him.
"It's everything I thought it would be and more," Fox said of sharing a backcourt with Monk. "It's easier for me to do what I have to do because you can't really help off Malik's side because he can catch and shoot it, he can do the one-dribble pull-up, so you can't really help too much. So, if I ever want to get to the basket, nine times out of ten, I'll go to his side so his defender won't help."
"It’s crazy," Monk said of sharing the backcourt with Fox. "We talked about playing with each other in high school a lot and just coming to college and doing it is amazing."
Back when Fox committed to Kentucky in November, he told reporters that he thinks he and Monk can be an even better version of John Wall and Eric Bledsoe, one of the better backcourts in Kentucky basketball history. Fox, who is already shouldering comparisons to John Wall himself, said that confidence comes from the way the two complement each other on the court.
"We both do a lot of similar things," Fox said. "We're both fast, we both get to the basket. Pull-up jumpers are good. Two guards that can do that, it's really hard to defend both of them."
"He’s one of the best defenders I’ve ever went against," Monk said. "He’s quick and he guesses right all of the time."
A common question on Media Day was what this team's playing style would be, and one word kept popping up in almost every player interview.
"Fast," Monk said. "Fast. On defense and offense, we've got a lot of speed. It'll be crazy."
Fox, who is known for his speed, said Malik may be even faster than he is.
"It will be fast by my standards. Sometimes I'll get the ball, I'll catch a rebound and Malik's gone. Malik's just as fast as I am, probably faster."
Fox and Monk may steal the headlines -- just this week, both were named to watch lists for point guard and shooting guard awards -- but the most important ingredient to their success could be Isaiah Briscoe, a wizened Calipari "veteran" in his sophomore year. Not only is Briscoe helping both learn Calipari's system, he's been guarding Fox in practice so far. Even though Fox is fast, he said Briscoe's pushing him to go even harder.
"It's crazy. We actually have these little monitors we wear, and it tells you how much effort you're giving," Fox "I think me and Bam gave the most effort the first week of practice. I was like, 'Yeah, I could tell.' Me guarding Isaiah full court, and him guarding me full court, it's really tough."
Briscoe said going against Fox is helping him as well.“It’s fun, a lot of fun. We make each other better because he’s a quick, fast guard, and I’m not used to playing against quicker and faster guards. With me, I’m stronger and more physical, and he’s not used to playing with that so we’re getting each other better each day.” Meanwhile, Monk -- never one to be shy -- is going against senior Dominique Hawkins in practice. “It’s the freshmen versus the upperclassmen every day in practice. We kill the upperclassmen every day," Monk claimed. When Hawkins heard that, he had to put the freshman in his place. "Oh, no, that's definitely not how I see it," Dominique laughed. "They haven't dominated. They've won a couple, and we've won a couple, so what's that, even, I guess? It's even. They don't win everything. They always complain about calls, like they got fouled if they lose or anything. You should ask them about that." Or, just be grateful all four guards are on the same team.