ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Friday morning, Alex Kirk was a New Mexico Lobo basketball player.
Monday morning, the 7-footer from Los Alamos will board a plane to Bradenton, Fla., to begin intense preparation for June’s NBA draft at the IMG Academy.
“I had the opportunity to play for my home state, represent my country (on Team USA’s World University Games team last summer) and it’s all been a dream come true for me, so far,” Kirk told the Journal on Saturday. “It just came down to my heart (saying) to go chase this next dream.”
Make no mistake, Kirk’s dream is to play in the NBA, even if he knows playing overseas is also a possibility. Getting prepared for that NBA level, he feels, would take his full attention now.
His dream isn’t out of reach, says his new agent, Graham Boone, director of basketball operations for Tandem Sports & Entertainment, a firm that represents such superstars as Tim Duncan and Ray Allen and hit pay dirt two years ago landing Jeremy Lin a huge contract with the Houston Rockets.
“We’re extremely excited to work with a guy like Alex,” Boone said Saturday. “The next two months are going to be very critical … but we absolutely think Alex is an NBA-level player. He just has an incredible skill set for his size. We’re confident he’ll be in the NBA next year.”
If they weren’t so confident, they wouldn’t have spent the better part of the past year pursuing him. Boone and Tandem President Jim Tanner began their recruitment of Kirk in May 2013.
“If you look at our client list, guys like Tim Duncan, they’re all high character guys,” Boone said. “That’s what we see in Alex and with his family. We don’t recruit everybody. We want him to be the right fit, and Alex is the right fit for us.”
Among the other big men already signed up to work out with Kirk in Florida are Tennessee’s 6-8, 260-pound power forward Jarnell Stokes and 6-10 Oregon State forward Eric Moreland. Others will join in the pre-draft preparation.
Kirk says he will miss playing for UNM, even if many of the same Lobo fans he says made the experience so special are now vocal in their criticism of his decision not to return.
He points out he isn’t so much leaving school early as he’s been at UNM for four years (he has one year of playing eligibility left because of back surgery that cost him the 2011-12 season). He will earn his marketing degree in May on completion of one final independent study course and is leaving at the same time as close friends who came to UNM with him in 2010: Cameron Bairstow, Kendall Williams and team manager Tyler Pientka (also from Los Alamos). His road roommate, Nick Banyard, is even leaving the team now to transfer to another school.
“I just felt it was the right time. People are allowed their opinions, and if they don’t think I’m ready, it’s not that I don’t respect that, but I have bigger things to worry about right now,” Kirk said. “I loved everything about my time here. I think I have a bright future ahead of me, and I’m ready to start chasing this next dream.”