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Lobo hoops: Williams, Kirk up for league’s top player

Lobos Alex Kirk, top, and Kendall Williams warm up before practice at the USA Basketball World University Games tryouts in Colorado Springs in June.(Jim Thompson/Journal)
Lobos Alex Kirk, top, and Kendall Williams warm up before practice at the USA Basketball World University Games tryouts in Colorado Springs in June.(Jim Thompson/Journal)
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Let the debating begin.

The Mountain West Conference on Tuesday sent out to select league media members preseason men’s basketball ballots for predicted order of finish; all-league players; and player, newcomer and freshman of the year honors.

As expected for a University of New Mexico team returning four starters from the defending champion squad, several Lobos are in consideration for preseason honors.

All four Lobo returning starters – guards Kendall Williams and Hugh Greenwood, forward Cameron Bairstow and center Alex Kirk – are among the 19 players nominated for preseason all-league honors. But the more interesting debate in Lobo circles may center around the Player of the Year race.

Teams are asked to nominate their own players for the various preseason awards, and UNM has put forward both Kirk and Williams, last year’s MWC Player of the Year.

Kirk, a junior, averaged 12.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game last season while earning league Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Williams, a senior who won the Player of the Year award in March and has been selected as the preseason favorite in multiple college basketball preview publications around the country, averaged 13.3 points per game and 4.9 assists.

There are eight players nominated for the preseason POY award: Kirk and Williams; Derrick Marks and Anthony Drmic, Boise State; Daniel Bejarano, Colorado State; Deonte Burton, Nevada; Khem Birch, UNLV; and Larry Nance, Wyoming.

From UNM, coach Craig Neal’s son and Eldorado High graduate Cullen Neal is nominated for Freshman of the Year, while junior-college transfer Deshawn Delaney of Vicennes College in Indiana is up for newcomer honors.

Ballots are due next week, and the results are expected to be announced Oct. 8.

High praise from Noodles

In June, Tony Snell became the first Lobo recruited in the era of Neal and former head coach Steve Alford to go in the first round of the NBA draft. (J.R. Giddens played one season under Neal/Alford and was a first-round draft pick, but transferred to UNM from Kansas when ex-head coach Ritchie McKay was coaching.)

On Monday night at the Lobos’ 6th Man Club golf tournament fundraiser, Neal said he thinks this year’s Lobos roster could have as many as three first-round NBA draft picks, referring to Kirk, Williams and Bairstow.

Bairstow burst onto the international scene over the summer as arguably the second best player in the World University Games in Kazan, Russia, behind only tournament MVP and Russian small forward Sergei Karasev, who was drafted No. 19 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers, one spot ahead of Snell by the Chicago Bulls.

Neal added that this year’s team “is by far, collectively, the most talented bunch we’ve had since we’ve been here,” referring to when he and Alford came from Iowa prior to the 2007-08 season.

TV schedule

UNM on Tuesday confirmed that every regular-season game for the Lobos will be broadcast online or on national or regional TV after Root Sports announced it had picked up seven Lobos games (six regular-season games and the Nov. 6 exhibition game against the University of Jamestown of North Dakota in the Pit).

UNM already had announced the ESPN family of networks (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPN3.com) will air 16 games, and CBS Sports Network will broadcast seven games (plus the conference tournament). The Dec. 4 game against New Mexico State in Las Cruces will be broadcast by NMSU’s in-house production brand AggieVision, which has at times been picked up by My50-TV in Albuquerque.

“University of New Mexico basketball has made a name for itself on a national stage,” Root Sports general manager David Woodman said in a news release. “We look forward to showcasing the talents of the current Mountain West champions to viewers throughout the region.”

Cooper honored

Former Lobo and Los Angeles Laker great Michael Cooper is scheduled to receive the Living Legend Award from the UNM Black Alumni Chapter at Friday’s third annual Trailblazers & Living Legends awards ceremony.

The event is at 6:30 p.m. in the Centennial Engineering Auditorium, with a reception starting at 6.

More information is available by calling BAC President Barbara Brown-Simmons at 760-265-1170.

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