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Taste of the Future

UNM recruit shows off his many skills in tourney loss to Rams at Abq. Academy

Alex Kirk, leather-flashing outfielder?

How about Alex Kirk standing guard between the pipes?

It might seem natural to assume that Los Alamos High School’s Lobo-in-waiting, who could dunk as an eighth-grader, was always a basketball behemoth. In fact, his shelf life as a hoops-only junkie is relatively brief, just a couple of years.

No doubt UNM coach Steve Alford is glad baseball and soccer didn’t pan out.

The 6-foot-11 center scored 36 points and pulled down 17 rebounds Thursday in the Hilltoppers’ 79-61 loss to Rio Rancho in the first round of the Joe Armijo Classic at Albuquerque Academy.

For Lobo fans who’d like a sneak preview of their future big man, Thursday was the first of six regular-season visits for Kirk and the Hilltoppers to the metro area. Los Alamos is here today and Saturday to complete this tournament, and later there are trips to Volcano Vista (Jan. 5), Del Norte (Jan. 15) and Bernalillo (Feb. 12).

In March, he’s expected to be back to try to lead Los Alamos to a state title.

“It’s the most important thing in basketball right now,” Kirk said. “That’s the big thing. That’s all I want to do.”

Kirk, at 18 already quite polished — and, he is told by doctors, not yet finished growing with a couple of inches perhaps left to go — on Thursday showed flashes of what’s to come when he arrives in a renovated Pit.

He dropped in a couple of 3-pointers, dribbled end to end on a couple of occasions and hovered like a redwood in the paint discouraging offensive penetrations by the Rams.

And yet, it was a quiet 36 as Rio Rancho ran the floor to try to prevent Kirk from being too much of a factor at the defensive end.

“Don’t know how much I could do about it tonight,” Kirk said. “They were just breaking so many guys and getting behind our defense. There wasn’t really anything I could do.”

The breakneck pace is surely going to test his stamina next season in Lobo cherry, although he believes he could be an instant contributor.

“That’s one of the main (things) I looked at during the recruiting process — when am I gonna play?” said Kirk. “When I saw that opportunity that I might get a chance to play my freshman year, I’m like, ‘gotta take that.’”

The Lobos edged out Arizona in the recruiting process, and Kirk signed his national letter of intent last month. Kirk was on Alford’s radar from the instant he arrived in New Mexico.

“He was probably the first player we offered after we saw him playing a game at Highland (High) as a sophomore,” Alford said after the Lobos signed Kirk. Alford added, “Size, or lack thereof, has been an issue for us, and adding Alex fills this void.”

This figures to be as much a college prep season for Kirk as it is a final prep season in Los Alamos. He said he hasn’t been given any firm edicts from Alford and UNM about what the Lobos would like Kirk to work on.

“It’s really early. I haven’t talked to them too much about that,” Kirk said. “They’re just telling me to focus on this season and get my state championship. They don’t want to put too much on me.”

After the season, Kirk knows he’ll need to add some bulk to his 230-pound frame. But the Lobos wanted Kirk as much for his obvious traits as his intangibles, like his ability to see the floor.

“Which is important in our offense,” Alford said.

Los Alamos plays St. Pius at 2:45 p.m. today in the consolation bracket. It’s not a high-profile game, but Kirk is thinking big picture.

“I’m working as hard as I can, that’s all I can do,” Kirk said. “I’m gonna live in the gym as much as I can. I have goals in college and I want to accomplish them.”

ARMIJO CLASSIC: There was another Alford connection in the first round of the Armijo tournament. Kory Alford buried a 22-foot, fadeaway 3-pointer from the baseline as time expired, lifting La Cueva to a thrilling 63-60 win over Hope Christian in a battle of defending state champions. The Bears (4-2) play Española Valley at 5:15 p.m. today in the first semifinal. The Sundevils beat Manzano 59-48.

 Academy (a 55-39 winner over St. Pius) and Rio Rancho play at 7 p.m.