CHARLESTON, S.C. – There won’t be revenge. But that doesn’t mean Alex Kirk doesn’t feel a little extra motivation today when the No. 19 New Mexico Lobos take the court against the Davidson Wildcats in the third place game of the Charleston Classic.
Kirk said it was one of the greatest honors of his life this summer when he earned a spot on the USA Basketball World University Games roster coached by Davidson head coach Dave McKillop.
But when the team got to Russia, the UNM 7-footer played sparingly at best and never even entered the game in a loss to Team Australia when Kirk’s Lobo teammate Cameron Bairstow torched Team USA in the post for 22 points.
Australia went on to win a silver medal while Team USA took ninth place.
“It’s not a revenge or a hate type thing at all,” Kirk said. “I have all the respect in the world for coach McKillop. But I want to show him I can play just like I want to show any player or coach I’ve built a relationship with that I’ve improved since they last saw me. This one is more about that.”
Kirk said the substitution pattern used in Russia was actually not handled much by McKillop but rather by Michigan coach/Team USA assistant John Beilein.
“Yeah, McKillop was the head coach, but Beilein was doing a lot of the subbing, the Michigan coach,” Kirk said. “I think I’d rather have a Michigan game and go against his legendary Mitch McGary (Michigan’s 6-10 sophomore forward) than play against Davidson, but we’re faced up with Davidson (today). That’s the game.”
Kirk, who said he thinks McKillop is every bit the coach the caliber of his North Carolina peer at Duke, Mike Krzyzewski, told the Journal in July he will always remember walking out of the Team USA locker room after they beat Finland in their final game in the World University Games tournament.
“He stopped us all walking out of the locker room and looked us in the eye and said, ‘I’m on your team the rest of my life. I’ll do anything for you,'” Kirk said.
That probably doesn’t include taking it easy on Kirk in today’s matchup, however.
Attempts by the Journal to interview McKillop in Charleston this week for this article were unsuccessful.
Craig Neal, UNM’s first year head coach who is coaching his fifth game today – compared to McKillop who is coaching his 676th – said he also has nothing but respect for his opponent today.
“He’s a great, great coach,” Neal said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him. They play the right way and he always has them playing hard. We struggled with them last year.”
When the two teams played in the Pit to open the 2012-13 season, UNM erased a 16-point second half deficit in a game that finished around 2 a.m. in Albuquerque.
But that was largely a different team with three starters from that squad now gone for Davidson, which has started the season 1-4.
“They had a lot of veteran guys last year that were really, really good,” Craig Neal said. “… (De’Mon) Brooks is back, but they’re not the same team I don’t think without (forward Jake) Cohen because he could shoot it, post it, and (guard Nik) Cochran, who really made them go. … But they do the same things, and he’ll have them ready. It’ll be a tough one for us.”