COLORADO SPRINGS – The USA Basketball experience came to an end Wednesday for one Lobo and lives on for another.
Alex Kirk, the University of New Mexico’s rising junior center, was one of 16 players who advanced in the USA Basketball World University Games training camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Lobo rising senior guard Kendall Williams did not make it through the initial cuts.
“It was quick,” Williams said of the post-practice meeting with coaches when the cuts were announced. “You have the confidence that you’re going to make it. … I went into this thinking I would make the cut. I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t.”
The USA Basketball selection committee, headed for this team by Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, will cut four more players – likely by Saturday – before the 12-member team leaves for Kazan, Russia, on Monday for the World University Games Championships. Those games will be broadcast on ESPNU from July 7-16.
Boeheim said both Lobos represented well, adding Williams’ cut was a close call.
“He’s a good player,” Boeheim said. “I think it was very, very close at the guard position. It was really close and could have gone either way. You have two days; some guys just played a little better. …
“He’s a good leader on the floor. The thing here, there’s no bad players here. All-Americans have been cut from these USA teams over the years. I’ve had a couple. It’s just how they played in a two-day period. It’s not always easy.”
UNM coach Craig Neal, who attended three of the four practices before the cuts were announced, said the experience for both his stars will be huge for the future: For Kirk in that he will continue the process and for Williams in that he will now have to grow from it.
“I was surprised,” Neal said of Williams being cut. “I just told him we’ve got to get back to work and prove everybody wrong and have a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. He can go either way. It can affect you in a positive way or a negative way.”
Kirk said it was a “pretty awesome feeling to hear your name” called, adding he feels for his teammate, and knows he still has plenty of work to do the rest of the week to make the final roster himself.
“I felt like he deserved it,” Kirk said. “No one hit shots, but he was in shape. He was pushing the ball. He was playing really good defense. It surprised me a lot.”
The 16 players kept in camp Wednesday include six guards, six forwards and four centers. The 2011 roster had seven guards and five frontcourt players, meaning the final four cuts later this week will likely be coming from the forward and center spots.