While local fans may have preferred it to happen in Albuquerque, several former Lobo basketball players will be holding a reunion of sorts next month in their home away from home, the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nev.
Cameron Bairstow, Tony Snell, Alex Kirk, Kendall Williams and Drew Gordon, who all joined the Lobos in 2010 (Gordon was a transfer), are scheduled to play in the NBA Summer League from July 11-21 at the home of the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, and the home of the annual Mountain West tournament.
“It will be nice to play with and against some of the same guys I’ve known for the past few years,” said Bairstow, who was selected Thursday night by the Chicago Bulls with the 49th pick (No. 19 in the second round) in the NBA draft.
Joining Bairstow on the Bulls’ roster will be Snell, who was drafted by Chicago in the first round last year, and Williams, who was undrafted but agreed to a deal with the team late Friday to play in the summer league.
Kirk, a center from Los Alamos, agreed to a deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Gordon, who has played in the summer league the past two years, has agreed to play with the Philadelphia 76ers. (NOTE: The original version of this article referenced Gordon playing with the Los Angeles Lakers in Summer League, but he and his agents have since decided to play with the 76ers.)
The Bulls, Cavs and 76ers are among 24 teams playing in Las Vegas, while six other NBA teams conduct a league in Orlando, Fla.
Since that group of five players came to UNM in 2010, the program went 11-4 in the Thomas & Mack Center, including 10-1 in the MWC tourney with three titles. Gordon (2012), Snell (2013) and Bairstow (2014) were named tourney MVPs.
New Mexico State’s 7-foot-5 center, Sim Bhullar, has also found recent success in Sin City and will return for summer league play. Bhullar agreed Friday to play with the Sacramento Kings in the summer league. The Aggies have won the past three Western Athletic Conference tournament titles in Las Vegas. (Bhullar was a redshirt when the Aggies won the championship team in 2012.)
Bairstow said that while he was tipped off he was getting drafted “a couple minutes” before hearing his name called on ESPN’s national telecast Thursday, he still didn’t believe it until he heard it.
“It was nervous, but it was also exciting,” said Bairstow, who was in San Antonio, Texas, with his girlfriend.
“I had a pretty good understanding, and I was confident I was going to get drafted. Based on what I was hearing, I thought there was a possibility it was going to be before (pick No. 49), but I also understood that other teams later in the draft were going to be pretty interested if I fell beyond (pick No. 49). … So while I felt pretty good about it all, at the same time it was a lot of nerves until you actually hear your name called. I guess that’s what the draft is all about.”
Bairstow will fly to Chicago on Sunday to start working with his new employer.
“It’s a great organization to be a part of,” Bairstow said, “and it was definitely one of the teams that me, along with my agency (Octagon), was targeting, knowing it would be a good fit.”
Chicago GM Gar Forman, a former NMSU assistant coach, said Bairstow’s style of play should fit in nicely.
“We were actually trying to move around and move up (in the draft) to make sure we got him,” Forman said. “He’s another guy who fits our culture, is a strong physical player. He’s a good skill player. He can shoot the midrange shot. He’s got experience. He’s played in international competition.”
Bairstow expects to play in the FIBA Basketball World Cup for the Aussie Boomers in September and will begin contract talks with the Bulls in July, according to agent Chris Emens.
Second-round draft picks are not guaranteed a roster spot.
Some NBA teams send second-round picks overseas for a year and retain rights to those players. Boston did that last year with ex-Colorado State star Colton Iverson. But Emens said there are no such plans with Bairstow and that Bairstow would not consider such an arrangement.
“I feel like I’ve got another good opportunity I’ve been given, and I’m going to make the most of that,” Bairstow said. “Whatever happens, happens. … I feel really confident that I’m going to do all that it takes to make it at the NBA level.”