Thanks to a dogged work ethic after back surgery and a breakout sophomore season on the court, Alex Kirk hopes that at this time next year he’ll be working out for general managers and professional scouts in preparation for the 2014 NBA Draft.
And thanks to a dogged work ethic in the classroom and taking full advantage of the academic services offered to University of New Mexico student athletes, even if the 7-foot center from Los Alamos opts to return for his senior season he should be well on his way toward a master’s degree at this time next year.
Kirk is expected to finalize coursework for his bachelor’s degree in business administration (with a marketing emphasis) by December – just 3 1/2 years after walking across the stage at his high school graduation.
“I think I’m a pretty solid student most of the time,” Kirk said. “But they really make sure you have all the help and all the resources you need to get your degree.”
And that isn’t a surprise for the Kirks.
When Kirk was being courted by major basketball programs in 2010, ensuring their son was set up for success in the classroom was a top priority for his parents, Alan and Pat Kirk.
“That was part of the recruiting process,” Alan Kirk said. “As parents, we were very – I don’t want to say aggressive, but we were very inquisitive about what they did knowing the kids were going to be missing school. In other words, what was the availability of the tutors? What was the availability of the support staff to help them get their homework done? What were the study hall periods?”
At UNM, a big answer was the Lobo Center for Student-Athlete Success.
It is in that building – across the street from the Pit – that sets the tone for the university to not only to meet NCAA-mandated academic benchmarks, but to fulfill the promise so many coaches make of seeing to it that kids earn their degrees.
“The one thing we can really point at, that academic center is phenomenal,” Alan Kirk said. “I think that is huge. The powers that be that put that together Ought to be commended.”
Aside from tutors and computer labs to help pass specific classes, the center offers individualized academic counseling and guidance – in the form of full-time student success managers – to navigate through the bigger picture of earning a degree.
Alex Kirk credits former “student success manager” Stephanie Mahal (she’s since left for Kansas) for spearheading a plan of attack to get a B.A. and a master’s in five years.
In addition to loading up on extra classes during the 2011-12 season he spent recovering from back surgery, Kirk has also been enrolled in every summer session since June 2010 and has taken advantage expanded online coursework offered at UNM.
Alex Kirk recalls waiting out a flight delay in the San Diego airport in January while listening to a logistics class lecture on his laptop.
“Academics really are always emphasized by coach (Steve) Alford and coach (Craig) Neal but it’s that way for all the sports, I think,” Alex Kirk said. “It’s almost like not getting a degree isn’t really an option.”