Darius Acuff Can Be The Key to Hogs Recruiting Other States’ Potential Malik Monks

John Calipari, Darius Acuff, Malik Monk, De'Aaron Fox

With Arkansas basketball’s roster for the upcoming season all but finalized, head coach John Calipari is shifting his focus ahead to the Class of 2025.

The Hogs have been in hot pursuit of five-star point guard Darius Acuff Jr., and on Friday were announced as one of the four finalists to land his commitment.

The Detroit native is the No. 4 prospect in the country according to 247Sports, and is ranked 9th nationally by both ESPN and Rivals.

The competition is stiff for Acuff, widely considered to be the best point guard in the country in his class. On3’s Jamie Shaw reported on June 18 that Kansas might be the favorite, but rumblings seem to suggest things might have changed in recent days.

In fact, Jacob Polacheck, a reporter for On3 and Kentucky Sports Radio, put in a crystal ball Monday predicting Acuff to land with the Razorbacks.

The Jayhawks have been chasing after another five-star point guard, Darryn Peterson, to headline their 2025 class. Peterson, who has also garnered interest from Calipari and the Hogs, completed a visit to Kansas a few days ago. If Peterson ends up committing to Bill Self, that would leave Arkansas as the frontrunner to land Acuff. Of course, with high school recruiting, it’s always going to be a very fluid situation.

Acuff’s Profile Mirrors Past John Calipari Guards

The five-star phenom has been very complimentary of Calipari in the past, and said ahead of his May 10 visit to Arkansas that he was definitely interested in what Calipari could bring to the Razorbacks.

“I’m looking forward to getting there,” he told Rivals. “Cal says it’s a great place and that he’s the same old Cal, just at a new school. He told me it’s the same mission.”

Aaron Torres, a national radio host for Fox Sports, said on his YouTube channel that Acuff and Calipari joining forces would evoke the formidable guards that Coach Cal had in his arsenal during his most successful previous seasons.

“This kid is the exact kind of player who has absolutely thrived under John Calipari,” he said. “Cal’s best teams, it’s no secret, everybody knows is when he has that elite lead guard. That playmaking, NBA-caliber point guard.”

“If you can get to the rim, if you can finish, if you can create for others, that’s when Cal’s had his best teams.”

Torres specifically cited Derrick Rose, Tyreek Evans and John Wall as examples of the type of signature Calipari guard that Acuff could become under his tutelage. He also mentioned that’s what Coach Cal could have had last year with a healthy DJ Wagner – something Razorback fans will have to cross their fingers for in the upcoming season.

Acuff’s scouting reports back up Torres’ lofty comparisons. Adam Finkelstein, 247Sports’ scouting director, described him as an explosive player and the most dominant lead guard in the class.

“There might not be any player scoring the ball more consistently,” Finkelstein said of Acuff on the Nike EYBL circuit.

Rivals’ Rob Cassidy described him as “a volume-scoring guard capable of making difficult shots look easy and absolutely taking over games.”

Acuff’s combination of size, speed and athleticism likens a comparison to another quintessential Calipari lead guard in De’Aaron Fox, formerly of Kentucky notoriety and now an NBA All-Star with the Sacramento Kings. Arkansas fans will remember his college dominance well from when he dropped 27 points, six rebounds and six assists on the Hogs back in 2017 en route to a top-five selection in the NBA Draft.

Darius Acuff Could Start Domino Effect for Arkansas Basketball

Torres touched on the perks of wrapping up Acuff’s recruiting process by landing a commitment from him in the near future. With his top four just dropping, it’s unlikely we’ll see an immediate decision. But Torres reckons a pledge from Acuff sooner rather than later could have a knock-on effect for the rest of Arkansas’ class.

“If you can get this commitment done soon…that’s huge for the entire recruiting cycle. We know good players want to play with other good players,” he said. 

“He becomes the best recruiter you have on the circuit. When it’s a dead period, when you can’t talk to players…you know who’s going to be there wearing that Arkansas red telling them to come play for Coach Cal? It’s going to be Darius Acuff.”

Fox Comparison Brings Back Memories of Malik Monk Debacle

That’s where the comparisons to Fox enter the fold again in a situation that will bring back some bad memories for Razorback fans. ESPN’s No. 7 overall prospect in his high school class, Fox committed to Calipari and Kentucky on Nov. 12, 2015.

Fox ended up being pivotal for Calipari, not just as a lead guard on the court but as a lead recruiter on the high school scene. On ESPNU, Fox publicly admitted that he was trying to persuade Malik Monk, a fellow top-10 overall prospect the top player in the state of Arkansas, to “get on board” with him and choose the Wildcats over the home-state Arkansas Razorbacks.

The two formed a friendship in high school after crossing paths on the summer youth basketball circuit, with Monk playing for the Arkansas Wings and Fox in the Houston Hoops program. They also shared the floor at the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic. The pair’s friendship has lasted through high school, college and the professional ranks, as they are currently teammates on the Sacramento Kings – even hosting the “Fox and Monk Show” on the team’s YouTube channel.

Six days after Fox’s commitment, Monk pulled the trigger with a pledge to Kentucky – a devastating blow to Arkansas and then-head coach Mike Anderson. Not only was Monk an in-state prospect, he was also a legacy recruit. His older brother, Marcus, starred for the football program and even served as a graduate assistant on Anderson’s staff.

The Lepanto, Ark., native and Bentonville High School grad went on to star for the Wildcats en route to a lottery selection in the NBA Draft, and he remains in the association today with the Sacramento Kings.

Monk became a controversial figure in the Natural State for his decision to snub the Hogs for Kentucky – and his infamous throat-slash at the Arkansas bench in the SEC Tournament did him no favors there.

Regardless of how things turned out, there’s a parallel universe where Monk stays at home and stars for Arkansas – and everyone lives happily ever after.

Acuff Could Mirror Fox’s Advocacy for Razorbacks

The hypothetical commitment of Acuff to Arkansas would allow the point guard to, as Torres said, act as a quasi-ambassador for the program and provide an “in” with the rest of the 2025 class. In that way, this could be the positive, inverse edition of the Fox and Monk debacle from almost 10 years ago.

Acuff’s five-star status has afforded him the opportunity to rub elbows with many other top prospects in his class at events around the country. Just for fun, let’s go through some prospects with Acuff connections that he could potentially assist Calipari in luring to Arkansas.

Recently, he starred for the United States in the 2024 FIBA Men’s U18 AmeriCup, bringing home the gold medal for his country and earning MVP honors. On May 28, he was named to the Men’s U18 National Team.

Five-star Jasper Johnson is the first connection that comes to mind as a teammate of Acuff’s on the USA U18 team who has also received an offer from Calipari at Arkansas. Rated as a top-15 overall prospect by 247Sports, the 6-foot-4 guard is a product of Link Academy in Missouri. The Hogs have an existing familiarity with the school’s staff after Jordan Walsh, another Link product, came to Arkansas a couple years ago.

Finkelstein’s scouting report describes Johnson as “a southpaw scoring guard who has spurts of extreme tough shot-making when he gets hot. He has a super soft natural touch and is very crafty around the lane with a deep bag of runners, floaters, and other types of finishes, in addition to the jumpers and step-backs he’s capable of making from the perimeter.”

A native of Lexington, Ky., Johnson is receiving heavy interest from Mark Pope’s new staff at Kentucky, North Carolina and Alabama also in the mix alongside the Razorbacks. He already held a Kentucky offer from Coach Cal, and Pope is stepping on the gas pedal by making him the local kid a priority target.

If Calipari were to land Johnson, it would give Arkansas fans a taste of sweet revenge for Monk’s poaching by stealing a recruit right out of the Wildcats’ backyard. Ironically, it would be Calipari doing the same thing he did with Fox and Monk, just at a new school.

Another five-star prospect that Acuff has teamed up with on the national team circuit is 6-foot-4 wing Trey McKenney, rated the No. 13 overall prospect in the 2025 class by Rivals. McKenney has been offered by Calipari at Arkansas, and is also being recruited by Indiana, Kentucky and many others, though the race appears to be wide open at this moment.

A native of Flint, Mich., landing McKenney would see Arkansas beat out in-state competition from Michigan State and Michigan, the latter against which the Razorbacks will face in Madison Square Garden this season. A victory on the recruiting trail here would certainly add some spice to that matchup.

When Acuff returns to IMG Academy in the fall, he could also try and convince some of his high school teammates to join him at Arkansas. The IMG roster also includes four-star prospects such as point guard Cam Miles, small forward Amari Allen and big man Kareem Stagg. That trio is ranked just outside the top 100 nationally, but could make for some quality depth additions in the mold of Calipari’s new-age walk-ons that receive full scholarships.

Whether Acuff can become a weapon for Calipari on the recruiting trail in addition to his on-court skills remains to be seen, but the potential snowball effect of Arkansas having a five-star ambassador in the Class of 2025 would be scary.

To channel Torres’ iconic phrase for Arkansas, it would certainly be hard to stop the “big pig invasion” in 2025 if that were the case.

Also, let’s commemorate Malik Monk getting slapped by M.J.:

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Full clip of Torres on Arkansas’ latest recruiting ventures:

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More on Jasper Johnson’s recruitment:

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