ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — They arrived together at the University of New Mexico four years ago.
This week, while Cameron Bairstow, Alex Kirk and Kendall Williams won’t be enjoying commencement ceremonies with their classmates, they will be together again on a job interview, of sorts.
The three former Lobos are among 60 players who will participate in the invitation-only NBA Draft Combine beginning today in Chicago.
UNM is one of four schools (Michigan, Syracuse and UCLA) with three players invited to perform and test in front of NBA executives. And with an injury to Michigan forward Mitch McGary, UNM will be one of only three schools with three players actually participating in the event.
“A lot of it is a credit to the program,” said UNM coach Craig Neal, who flies to Chicago today to be with his former players. “People around the league, they know us. I still know a lot of the guys from around the league (from when Neal was an assistant and scout with the Toronto Raptors). General managers, they know what kind of kids we’re recruiting, and we’re developing them.”
UNM now has five players (Tony Snell in 2013 and Drew Gordon in 2012) who have participated in the combine in the past three years. The other 10 teams in the Mountain West Conference have had five players combined participate.
“We’re getting kids that work hard,” Kirk said. “Coach Neal and coach Alford got kids that work hard and at the end of the day, hard work trumps all. … If you’re not going to put in the work to get better, you’re not going to get the opportunities Tony, Kendall, Cam and I have gotten.”
Cameron Bairstow (6-9, 250, power forward)
Bairstow, has remained in Albuquerque most of the time since the season ended with the exception of the past few weekends when he’s flown to Las Vegas, Nev., to work out with current and prospective NBA players at the Impact Basketball Academy.
The well-documented workout warrior has the potential this week to wow player personnel folks around the league with his physical conditioning and work ethic.
“Obviously I’m not a mind-blowing athlete or a stretch four,” Bairstow said. “There are a bunch of things that are a question mark, but at the same time I think my toughness and consistency (are positives), and obviously having a decent year offensively and how successful the team has been should help.
“You want to do well against the competition you’re going against in the draft, but you don’t want to get caught up in trying to show someone up, especially if it’s doing something that really isn’t a part of what you do well. You have to do the things you do well, showcase that and hopefully there is a team out there looking for what you can do.”
Alex Kirk (7-0, 245, center)
Kirk, who left UNM with a year of playing eligibility remaining, has been training at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., for the past several weeks, going up against several fellow draft hopefuls.
He’s roommates with University of Florida power forward Patric Young and works out daily with Jarnell Stokes (Tennessee), Eric Moreland (Oregon State), Rodney Hood (Duke) and others.
Kirk, who said he has dropped a considerable amount of body fat in Florida, says his conditioning is where he wants it and he’s confident about the combine. He admitted he’ll be keeping an eye on his former teammates – both at UNM and on last summer’s Team USA World University Games team – this week.
“One of my best friends in the world is going to be at this event in Cam,” Kirk said. “It’s impossible not to pay attention some to what others are doing. Yes, I’m going to know what (Creighton’s) Doug McDermott is doing and (Colorado’s) Spencer Dinwiddie is doing. Yes, I’m going to know what Kendall Williams is doing. That’s part of it, but I’m 100 percent focused on what I’m doing and the task at hand.”
Kendall Williams (6-4, 180, guard)
Ironically, Williams has been doing his recent crash course of draft preparation at UCLA, the school he was once committed to play for in high school and the school that now employs the coach he came to UNM to play for in Steve Alford.
He said his routine back home in California recently consists of waking up, eating, working out, eating and going back to sleep.
“I feel well-prepared for what’s coming up,” Williams said. “It’s another opportunity, another step. It’s a game that I’ve loved my whole life. I’m feeling pretty good just to be invited. I’ve been working my butt off since I came out to California in preparation for the draft, for the combine, and now it’s here.”
And what, specifically does he want to show?
“I just want to show my versatility,” he said. “Show them my strengths as a big guard, being able to do a lot of different things (on the court). But I also want to show them the things I’ve been improving on – my shot, my strength and whatever the things are they might think of as weaknesses.”