LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Each July, basketball courts across the country are full of kids, hopes and dreams.
Teenage boys bounce from city to city playing in AAU tournaments trying to earn scholarships by impressing college coaches, who are quick to offer promises of the players one day making their way to the NBA.
For most, the dream ends sometime over the next four or five years.
But for Tony Snell, Cameron Bairstow, Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk – four players who enrolled at the University of New Mexico as part of the recruiting class of 2010 – the dreams of yesteryear are still very much alive and being rekindled on a basketball court in July.
While Tony Snell was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 2013 and is playing in his second NBA Summer League this week, his recruiting classmates each made their debut in the past three days – Kirk on Friday night with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Bairstow and Williams alongside Snell on Saturday night with the Bulls.
“It’s just like old times,” Snell said after a dominating performance in an 86-70 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday night in the Thomas & Mack Center.
“Having these guys around me, still doing the same things like nothing changed. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Snell scored a game-high 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting, including 5-of-7 from 3-point range, and was the main attraction for the Chicago media contingent after the game.
Since the 2010 recruiting class, UNM played in three NCAA Tournaments and notched 106 victories. And the foursome at the core of that class forged a bond.
After his 12-rebound game in his Friday night debut with the Cavaliers, Kirk said he had no doubt what was waiting for him when he turned his phone on after the game.
“First thing I’ll see on the phone, there might be a text from dad, one from the agent, but then there’s that group text waiting for me with those guys,” said Kirk. “That’s just the relationship we have and will always have. I’ve told you this before, I don’t ever see another recruiting class like that again.”
Williams, who had a rebound and a steal in two minutes of court time Saturday with the Bulls, agreed the group has a special connection.
“Family has to come first and these guys are family to me,” Williams said. “I know they’ll say the same. We’re all in a similar situation now, competing again at a high level and it’s just nice to go through it all with a bunch of your brothers.”
Bairstow, a Brisbane, Australia, native who was this year’s second-round draft pick of the Bulls, had eight points, six rebounds, an assist and a steal Saturday night. He said it was nice to experience the different style of the NBA game, adding it was “great to have the four of us here doing well.”
But that was the plan, wasn’t it?
After all, becoming a professional basketball player and maybe even getting the opportunity to play for an NBA team one day was what young players are told all the time on the recruiting trail, isn’t it?
“I think in all of them we saw unlimited potential and we could foresee them being possible NBA players,” UNM head coach Craig Neal told the Journal on Saturday as he was back on the recruiting trail, bouncing around in the past week from Albuquerque to Illinios to Missouri to Texas.
“You’re always trying to be really, really positive and you think they’re going to be really good, but there’s a part of it where you just don’t really ever know. But these guys, we told them how things could be if they worked and it’s basically turned out the way we told them because they put the work in.”
Throw in Drew Gordon (Philadelphia 76ers) and Darington Hobson (Toronto Raptors) and there are six ex-Lobos taking part in this week’s Las Vegas Summer League.
And for Sherika Brown, Snell’s mother, this week has been surreal seeing the group back together.
“This was always the plan, to end up playing professionally,” Brown said. “But that’s every kid’s plan when they get recruited. They all want this, but it’s just so amazing to see all four of them here doing this now. I can’t tell you how happy I am right now.
“They’re brothers. They have been since then and still are today.”