LEXINGTON, Ky. — They’d all heard the hype, seen the highlight videos, watched Malik Monk reach the finals of the McDonald’s All-American dunk contest. But just in case any of his new Kentucky teammates still were skeptical of his freakish athleticism, poor Dillon Pulliam unwittingly helped erase all doubt during the team’s first pickup game together this summer.
“Oh no,” the walk-on guard says upon first mention of that fateful day. “I already know what this is about. It was bad.”
As teammates tell it — and Pulliam is still searching for the filthy rat who first let this story slip — Monk caught a pass on the left wing and blew by fellow 5-star freshman Wenyen Gabriel.
“Yeah, that’s my fault,” Gabriel said. “I kind of let that go, because I knew he was going to dunk it and it was too late.”
Not in the plucky Pulliam’s mind. Hey, he and Monk are both 6-foot-3 guards, so it’s not some crazy mismatch, right? Right? Pulliam rotated over as Monk drove baseline and took flight.
“It was good help,” Monk said, grinning, “but it was late.”
Undeterred by the inevitability of what was about to happen, Pulliam jumped with him. By all accounts, Monk launched from well outside the paint and was eye-level with the rim when he met the challenger.
“I don’t know why he did that to himself,” said Brad Calipari, a fellow walk-on and the coach’s son.
“I was like, ‘Don’t jump, don’t jump,’ but he went for it, for some reason,” said Jonny David, another walk-on with better sense.
“It was definitely in slow motion,” said Gabriel, who doesn’t seem terribly broken up about his role in putting Pulliam on a poster.
“It was one of the biggest poster dunks I’ve ever seen in my life,” said forward Tai Wynyard. “He jumped from outside the box and just kind of cocked it back and punched it on his head. It was crazy.”
That’s the closest thing you’ll get to a detailed description of the aerial assault — which, sadly, no one captured on video — because if you ask anyone else on the team, they answer mostly in head shakes, uproarious laughter or sad faces that reflect empathy for the victim.
“I didn’t realize we were talking about that,” freshman forward Sacha Killeya-Jones said. “But yeah, he really dunked on — I’m not going to say who he dunked on.”
Cat’s out of the bag, bud.
“Yeah, he dunked on Dillon pretty bad. It was really bad,” he continued. “I’ve never been dunked on like that. I don’t know how you move on from that.”
With a sheepish smile and, believe it or not, the tiniest bit of pride. Pulliam figures he ought to at least get some credit for trying — “No, no, it’s stupidity,” David argues — and he rests easier knowing he won’t be the last person to end up on the business end of a Monk dunk.
But that doesn’t mean he escaped without a little psychological damage.
“I don’t like remembering it,” he said. “So next time he drives down, I might try to just slide out of the way or something.”
There are still plenty of kinks Kentucky coach John Calipari wants to work out of Monk’s game. He’s a streaky shooter who can just as easily brick 8 consecutive 3-pointers as swish that many in a row. He gets such ridiculous elevation on his jumper, Calipari said, that Monk always believes he’s open, leading to some bad shot selection.
But if you’re predicting the Wildcats’ leading scorer in 2016-17, the smart money is on the new kid from Lepanto, Ark., who patterns his game after explosive NBA star Russell Westbrook. And whatever you do, don’t jump with him.
“If he’s ahead (on the fast break), give it to him,” Calipari said. “If you don’t give it to him, you’re coming out. Because he can just — you know.”
Dillon Pulliam does.