ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The chatter about just how good Alex Kirk can be for No. 17 New Mexico has grown louder and louder.
Coming off a medical redshirt season and more than 600 days between games played in March 2010 and early last month, it’s hard to imagine anyone expected the 7-footer from Los Alamos to force his way into the conversation as a potential First Team All-Mountain West player as a redshirt sophomore. But with four non-conference games left, he is absolutely setting the table for such a run once league play begins in January.
There is little that gives a basketball coach more flexibility with what he asks of the rest of his team than having a complete player in the post. That is what Kirk appears to be with an all-around game that includes solid pick-and-roll play, solid deep shooting, shot-blocking, rebounding, decent free throw shooting and a better back-to-the-basket game on offense than most give him credit for.
No. 17 UNM at NMSU, 7 p.m., Pan American CenterTV:AggieVisionRADIO: 770 AM, 101.7 FM
“I said it a long time ago, he was going to be one of the best centers in the west and he just continues to improve and get better and prove those things right,” UNM coach Steve Alford said. “I think he’s a tremendous talent. You’ve got to guard him – not just on the block … (but against New Mexico State on Saturday night) we just pulled him away from the basket and let him shoot shots because he can make shots.
“He gets to the free throw line. He’s getting much better defensively. He’s gotten better defensively every game. He’s doing a lot of good things.”
Kirk is averaging 12.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. Those numbers are as complete as any of the league’s top centers. Colorado State’s Colton Iverson has more points and rebounds per game, but isn’t blocking shots like Kirk. Wyoming’s Leonard Washington, at 6-7, isn’t a classic center and many question the overall level of competition the Cowboys have faced. UNLV’s highly-regarded center Khem Birch, a transfer from Pittsburgh, makes his Rebels debut today against UTEP.
Kirk, meanwhile, is getting better each game and has shown few, if any, ill effects from his back surgery. Even his conditioning, which has been under a microscope this season, actually hasn’t been much different than most other high-level 7-footers.
He has faced smaller, athletic bigs who like to slash. He’s faced fellow 7-footers who have back-to-the-basket games. He’s faced shooters. He’s faced bangers. Saturday, the kitchen sink thrown at him came in the form of New Mexico State’s 7-foot-5 Sim Bhullar – who Kirk insists may be as tall as 7-7.
Maybe most surprising for a shot blocker like Kirk, he has yet to have a game with more than three fouls called on him.
Saturday, NMSU coach Marvin Menzies said the sky is the limit for Kirk, who he realized years ago had this sort of potential.
“I recruited the kid,” Menzies said. “I thought he was a high-major get for the Lobos when they got him.”
ALL ABOUT ADAMS:Through the first 97 games of Chad Adams’ career in a Lobos uniform, the Highland High School graduate had one start and averaged 2.6 points per game, 1.4 rebounds and 8.3 minutes played.
Since he was thrust into the starting lineup Nov. 23 for a struggling Demetrius Walker, a span now of seven starts, the 6-6 forward is averaging 27.1 minutes per game, 9.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, has had two double-doubles and has led the team in both scoring and rebounding, in different games, for the first time.
“Chad’s been terrific,” Alford said. “The transformation in him, the light turning on in him has been one of the most rewarding things since I’ve been here.”
Saturday against NMSU, Adams not only had 13 points and 10 rebounds, he filed away a moment not many can match when he blocked the shot of a 7-5 player in NMSU’s Sim Bhullar.
“Chad is on top of the world right now so I wouldn’t have been surprised if he blocked an 8-5 guy,” UNM junior Kendall Williams said. “Whatever he does doesn’t surprise me at this point.”
Williams went on to say the entire team is enjoying watching Adams’ blossom in recent weeks.
“I don’t know if he’s been an underdog, but now that he’s received some appreciation, how he’s been able to handle it … I’m happy for him,” Williams said.
Now Alford has just one request of those people around Adams – ans, friends, family – everyone.
“Please don’t say much to him to disrupt that flow,” Alford said. “I told his dad at practice – his dad stopped by practice and I told him don’t wish him Merry Christmas, don’t tell him Happy New Year, don’t do anything that’s going to disrupt his rhythm.”
ASSIST MAN:After Williams’ stat-stuffing game of 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists on Saturday against NMSU, he took over the Mountain West lead in assists per game (5.4) from UNLV’s Anthony Marshall (5.3).
Williams’ 34.5 minutes played per game also leads the league.
— This article appeared on page B1 of the Albuquerque Journal