LAS VEGAS — John Calipari was gushing Saturday night about how special Malik Monk is, and rightfully so after he dropped 47 points and the game-winning 3-pointer on North Carolina, but the Kentucky basketball coach paused that praise for an important reminder.
“De’Aaron Fox is special,” Calipari said, knowing his other elite freshman guard might get overlooked in the hysteria of an historic performance by Monk.
How often does a teenager produce 24 points, 10 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals and just 2 turnovers in a thrilling win over a top-10 team, as Fox did against the Tar Heels, and that’s not the headline — or really even a major talking point? He gets it, though.
“I felt like I played pretty well,” Fox said, but when Calipari at one point tried to sub him in for Monk while the latter was hot, “I was like, ‘You all still want me to take him out?’ And they changed it.”
That says something about Fox worth noting, which the stat sheet confirms: He’s more than willing to share and let the players around him shine. He was driving when Monk came open on the left wing for the go-ahead 3-pointer with 22 seconds left Saturday, and Fox happily dished it.
“When someone’s hot like that, you just keep giving them the ball,” he said.
While Fox had a career high in points against the Tar Heels — including two free throws with three seconds left in a 103-100 victory — he also led the team in assists for the ninth time this season and recorded his team-high fourth double-double.
He is now averaging 15.9 points, 7.2 assists, 5.3 rebounds, 2.4 turnovers and 1.7 steals per game. And although it’s still early, Fox continues to threaten Tyler Ulis’ single-season school record of 246 assists. Fox has 79 dimes through his first 11 college games compared to 61 at this same point for Ulis as a sophomore last year.
Interestingly, Calipari actually would like him to be just a little more selfish at times.
“I got on him because he wouldn’t shoot the ball. I mean, I literally screamed across the floor, pointed and jumped and stomped. ‘You better shoot the (ball)!’” the coach said. “He had three shots he passed up and he dribbled baseline. What are you doing? And if you don’t make them all and you miss them all on national television, you’ll be in the gym tonight. Neither one is bad.
“You figure it out, but you’ve got to shoot the shots that we create for each other.”
So Fox, who is seventh nationally (second among freshmen) in assists per game, followed orders and took a career-high 21 shots against North Carolina. He did not miss them all.
He hit nine, plus 6 of 7 free throws, in arguably his best performance of the season. That’s saying something, considering he hung a triple-double on Arizona State and went for 20 points and 9 assists against UCLA.
In other words: It’s clear now that Monk is a bona fide superstar, but Fox has been nothing short of spectacular himself.