ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Lobo center lands spot on U.S. squad
Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow go at it pretty hard in Lobos practices much of the year.
On July 11, they’ll be wearing opposing jerseys.
Kirk, a 7-foot rising junior for the University of New Mexico, on Saturday survived the final cuts and earned a spot on USA Basketball’s World University Games final 12-man roster and will leave Monday for Kazan, Russia, to compete in the 2013 World University Games Championship.
The 6-9 Bairstow, who flew to his native Australia in May, already has earned his spot on the Australian “Boomers” National team.
“It’s going to be awesome to play against him,” Kirk told the Journal on Saturday after finding out he made the USA roster. “It will be interesting because we know a lot of each other’s tendencies. But with that said, the game is a lot different.”
Kirk and teammate Kendall Williams were among 27 players invited to the U.S. Olympic Training Facility in Colorado Springs last Monday to try out for the 12-man final roster.
Williams was cut from the team on Wednesday in what Syracuse coach and USA Basketball selection chairman Jim Boeheim called a difficult decision.
Kirk becomes the second Lobo to represent the United States in the World University Games, joining Kenny Thomas (1997).
“It’s just an amazing feeling to get to go try and win a gold medal for your country,” Kirk said. “Sort of hard to describe, really. It probably hasn’t sunk in yet.”
He joked that he will now have to try to bribe Lobo teammate Hugh Greenwood, a longtime fixture in the Australian basketball development program who is hoping to make the 2016 Olympic team, to get info on how the Boomers run their offense.
As for what World University Games head coach Bob McKillop (Davidson College) and assistants John Beilein (Michigan) and Frank Martin (South Carolina) want from Kirk in the upcoming tournament, it’s simple.
“Defense is a big thing because all the different teams from different countries, they might run something similar, but they aren’t the exact same so we have to get everybody on the same page with different screens and different rotations,” Kirk said.
He will also do much less popping out to the 3-point line off screens and, instead, much more diving toward the rim in the U.S. system.
Said McKillip of the team makeup in general: “Clearly, versatility. We have guys that can play more than one position. That’s one of the great strengths we have.”
UNM head coach Craig Neal, who attended three practices earlier in the week, said Kirk’s honor is in turn a huge honor for the program and for basketball around the state. Kirk is a Los Alamos native.
“Very exciting time for Lobo basketball with Alex Kirk’s selection to Team USA,” Neal said.
“Alex is everything you want in a student athlete. … So happy for him and his family. Alex does everything in his life the right way all the time in everything he does as a young man. ”
DRAFT NIGHT: As Kirk finished a Thursday night practice at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, he hurried to the cafeteria for dinner and some television to watch the NBA Draft.
USA Basketball teammates Will Sheehey and Yogi Ferrell had some time to celebrate early on when two of their Indiana teammates from the past season – Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller – were selected in the first four picks. But despite Kirk’s being seated among a group of some of the best college players from some of the best college programs in the nation – Louisville and Michigan State, to name a couple – it was he who got to boast next when the Chicago Bulls selected former Lobo teammate Tony Snell with the No. 20 pick in the first round.
“Once No. 17 hit, my stomach started to turn a little bit,” Kirk said of his experience watching the draft in the cafeteria.
“I knew it was coming, and then I was just so happy. Tony is in a great place right now, going to Chicago. I know that was the place he wanted to go. Anytime you send someone to the NBA from a school like New Mexico, it’s a huge thing.”
EARLY SCOUTING REPORT: Participating in the World University Games training camp this week, Kirk and Williams were able to get some early scouting in on two Lobo opponents this season.
Williams was able to scrimmage with and against 6-foot-4 guard Sean Kilpatrick of Cincinnati, which plays in the Pit in December.
Kirk frequently went head to head with 6-8 center Davonte Gardner of Marquette , which plays UNM in Las Vegas, Nev., in December.
Kilpatrick made the final roster of 12. Gardner did not.
As for the tournament in Russia, the day after Kirk faces Bairstow, Team USA will play Team Canada, which will include New Mexico State rising junior guard Daniel Mullings.