ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It was a big decision, indeed.
But it couldn’t have been that tough.
On Friday, Alex Kirk announced he is skipping his senior with University of New Mexico men’s basketball program to turn pro and try making the NBA. It wasn’t the news most Lobo fans hoped to hear. Realistically, it was one they should have anticipated.
Will the 7-foot, 250-pound post get drafted by the NBA? If so, will he get picked in the first round – guaranteeing him at least couple million dollars setting him up for life?
If not, it’s still right move.
There are two major arguments folks have against players leaving school early and turning pro:
1. Return to school and improve your NBA stock the next season.
2. Get your degree.
Let’s take the second one first, because it’s a moot point for Kirk.
He has his degree in hand.
But even for players who leave before graduating, is there a rule they can’t someday return to school?
The NCAA has a lot of odd ones. That’s one, however, I can’t seem to find.
Those players won’t have a scholarship, you say?
Something tells me after a few years of pro ball – especially those who get to the NBA – they can afford the tuition.
Plenty to consider
OK, now to No. 1 – returning to school to improve draft status.
If Kirk chose that route, it would have been interesting to see what the fan response would have been if he returned to college – but at a different school.
Rumors flew all season that he might do just that, possibly even following former Lobo coach Steve Alford to UCLA.
As a graduate, Kirk could transfer to any school without having to sit out a season. Heading to a higher profile program certainly could have helped him get more national exposure.
But there’s no guarantee that exposure would be great. Learning a new system, even with an old coach, and bonding with new teammates takes time. It could have been a risk, and even dropped his future stock.
Returning to UNM also wouldn’t guarantee his stock hitting green numbers.
With seniors Cameron Bairstow and Kendall Williams gone, Kirk would have been the Lobos’ go-to guy. And without any proven standouts around him, he would have been the focus of every opposing defense. Every game, he would take a physical pounding by opponents triple-teaming him.
For a guy who already missed a season after back surgery, a possible major injury had to cross his mind.
And then there could be another pounding.
By the fans, many of whom thought Kirk underachieved this season.
The Lobos look to be in a bit of a rebuilding mode. If they struggle at times next season, Kirk would have been the main guy – on the floor, at least – taking the brunt of the public blows.
Plenty of upside
If the NBA doesn’t draft Kirk in June, then what?
That would be far from the end of the world. In fact, it could open up a world of possibilities – literally.
Kirk, an agile 7-footer who can shoot the 3, would fit perfectly into the European style. The salary that would fit perfectly into his wallet.
Depending on the league, salaries can start as high as $100,000. Many times, that money is tax free.
If the goal is to play professional basketball, why not start that career as soon as possible? Another year of college, and Kirk would be 23 before turning pro. That’s another year of tossing big basketball bucks out the window.
It’s a window that eventually closes, sometimes much sooner than expected.
In addition, scooting through that window far from closes the door on the NBA.
Whether it’s Connecticut or the Congo, Los Angles or Lithuania, Albuquerque or Amsterdam – if you’re good enough, the NBA will find you. Especially if you are a big man with big-time skills.
Last year, the league drafted seven foreigners in t he first round who didn’t play college ball in the United States.
In 2011, four of the NBA draft’s top seven picks were foreigners who didn’t play a lick of U.S. college hoop. All four were all big men.
There is a tremendous upside to a pro career outside of the NBA.
And then there’s always a chance Kirk does become a first-round NBA pick in June.
So all things considered, is turning pro early worth the risk?
Just ask Tony Snell.