ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sitting in a Weck’s two weeks ago in Albuquerque enjoying breakfast with his parents and younger sister, Alex Kirk was reminded exactly how good things are when you’re the biggest star for the biggest show in town.
A 3- or 4-year-old girl, by Kirk’s estimation, who was sitting across the restaurant from his family walked up to the Kirk’s table and handed the 7-foot University of New Mexico basketball star a picture she drew on her menu.
Scribbled in blue crayon, the little Lobo fan had traced her hands. In red crayon she wrote: “Go Lobos. I (heart) Kirk.”
That’s the good life Kirk, one of New Mexico’s favorite sons since his standout prep basketball career at Los Alamos High, has led for the past four seasons in Albuquerque.
It’s also the life Kirk decided to leave behind.
At a Friday morning meeting at the Davalos Center, Kirk, along with his parents, informed head coach Craig Neal and the Lobos coaching staff that he will forgo his senior season of eligibility, hire an agent and enter his name in the NBA draft slated for June.
“This decision for him wasn’t easy,” Alan Kirk told the Journal said of his son. “He’s very appreciative of all the fans, the coaching staff and his teammates. He realizes he could have stayed and added to his statistical value, but he really came to the conclusion it was important for him to seek out his dream.”
Alex Kirk did not speak to the media Friday, and UNM said Kirk will be issuing a statement through his agent today.
The 22-year-old has completed his course work at UNM and will earn a bachelor’s degree in marketing in May. He averaged 13.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game this season. He is ranked eighth all time at UNM in rebounding (685), fourth in blocked shots (168) and was the 32nd Lobo to break the 1,000-point plateau.
If he returned to UNM, he would be 23 when entering next year’s draft, and his window of opportunity to earn money playing basketball — in the NBA or overseas — may be narrowing.
“He’s got to work at it, but he sees some opportunities he feels are within reach,” Alan Kirk said. “He knows he needs a rigorous, structured training program with the opportunity to practice on a regular basis against other 7-footers to prepare him — guys who are as good or better than him — to get him prepared for this.”
A report from about 20 league executives on the NBA’s Undergraduate Advisory Committee did not suggest Kirk is projected as a first-round draft pick; it also did not sway him from making the decision to turn pro.
Only first-round NBA draft picks (the top 30 players selected) earn guaranteed contracts, but as a 7-footer who can consistently hit 15- to 18-foot jump shots, Kirk is hopeful to earn a spot on a roster in a league frequently looking for such types of reserve players.
Last week, Neal said that Kirk he would be the focal point of the UNM offense and was hopeful he would return for the 2014-15 season.
UNM did not conduct a news conference, but in a prepared email statement shortly before 5 p.m. Friday, Neal stated he will try to assist Kirk in any way.
“We are fully supportive of Alex and his decision and will do everything we can to help him,” Neal said. “I recruited Alex since he was a sophomore in high school, and I have been able to work with him and watch his development.”
Along with Kirk’s departure, UNM is losing Kendall Willams and Cameron Bairstow to graduation, as well as sophomore Nick Banyard and freshman Tim Myles to transfer. The Lobos have three scholarships to fill for next season and will look to replace 67.8 percent of its scoring, 53.2 percent of its rebounding, 50.2 percent of its assists and 82.6 percent of its blocked shots from this past seeason.