There was a time Alex Kirk didn’t think he’d be making road trips with his Lobo teammates, let alone one to Australia, where the team left for Friday night.
Friday, on the two-year anniversary of the back surgery that led to his missing the 2011-12 season, Kirk was all smiles about how a year off may have been the best thing that ever happened to him.
“It kind of put you in a hole,” Kirk said of the surgery. “You weren’t really sure if I was ever going to play again.”
Kirk posted Friday on Twitter a “Thank You” message to many of those who helped him make his comeback that included some of the darker memories of the process.
“I honestly wasn’t sure if I would ever play basketball again with how bad the nerves got in my leg,” Kirk wrote. “Most days I was too embarrassed or in too much pain to even walk to class. I remember my first basketball practice back I was so terrible I cried.”
One of the fonder memories of rehab came thanks to former assistant coach Ryan Miller, who now coaches at Auburn; former Lobo guard Dairese Gary, a graduate assistant on the 2011-12 Lobos; and former teammate Kory Alford, who redshirted the 2011-12 season.
“I’ll never forget the Ryan Miller/Dairese Gary vs. Kory Alford/Alex Kirk two-on-two battles after practice,” Kirk said. “The whole team would walk up to the practice facility after practice and watch it.”
And who won those battles? Kirk wouldn’t give a direct answer, but his non-answer and accompanying smirk were telling. “Coach Miller can shoot it,” Kirk said.
THE GOAL DOWN UNDER: UNM head coach Craig Neal said his team’s Australia trip, which began Friday night to Los Angeles before moving on to Sydney, is as much about the players bonding as anything. The Lobos plan to attend a rugby game Monday and will walk the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
As for basketball, Neal said once the games start, he’s “just going to let them play” and wait until they return for in-depth film breakdowns and critiques.
“I want them to have fun,” Neal said.
UNIQUE UNIS: The Lobos on Friday unveiled special uniforms just for the trip, including the Southern Cross constellation on the shorts. The Southern Cross, very visible in the Southern Hemisphere, is the five-star constellation on the Australian flag.
The jerseys will be auctioned after the team returns.
CAM AND HUGH: Two Lobos starters – Hugh Greenwood and Cameron Bairstow – are already in their native Australia awaiting their teammates’ arrival.
UNM senior guard Kendall Williams said he can’t wait to see how fans react to Greenwood and Bairstow on their home turf.
“He’s a national hero,” Williams said of backcourt mate Greenwood. “I’m excited to go see the Hugh Greenwood Show. And Cam, he’s really had a great summer. It will be fun for us to go and enjoy that with them.”