ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Snell, Williams, Kirk, Bairstow having a hot summer
Roman Martinez, Darington Hobson and Dairese Gary took the Lobo basketball team to a top-10 ranking and the NCAA Tournament as a No. 3 seed.
Riding the brief wave of national attention that team generated, came the recruiting class of 2010: four newcomers (not counting a couple of transfers, Emmanuel Negedu and Demetrius Walker) who were being called upon to carry the program to the next level.
This summer, and more specifically this week, those four from the class of 2010 – Tony Snell, Kendall Williams, Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow – are trying to hold their end of the bargain. They will be trying to take the national branding of Lobo basketball to another level as a place recruits can feel confident they can experience more than just regular-season team success.
Snell has the potential on Thursday to be selected in the first round of the NBA draft, a first for a Steve Alford/Craig Neal-era Lobo recruit.
Williams and Kirk, meanwhile, have the opportunity beginning today in Colorado Springs to earn a spot on the USA Basketball World University Games roster and represent their country later this summer in Russia. No Lobo in the Alford/Neal era (2007-08 season to present) has made a USA Basketball roster. The list of 27 invited players is expected to be trimmed to a final 12-man roster on Wednesday.
Bairstow, meanwhile, has already earned a spot on this summer’s Australian “Boomers” national team and will compete in July in the World University Games.
“To me it was an underrated class from the start,” Williams said of the four freshman who enrolled at UNM as part of the 2010 recruiting class. “… As a whole, we’ve worked hard and all been able to do some good things. With Tony getting drafted, I’m hoping it’s as high as possible, and with the other three of us just trying to represent UNM for our national teams, it’s going to be a great week. Even more than that, it’s been a really impactful summer for us as individuals and for the whole program.”
Kirk, one of only two 7-footers invited to this week’s training camp, agrees the program would benefit greatly long term if he or Williams (or both) make the national roster, or if Snell hears his name called in the first round of Thursday’s draft.
“I think it’s going to be a huge week,” Kirk said. “My mindset, and I’m pretty sure Kendall’s mindset, is I think we both have just as good a chance to make the team as anyone up there. … And if Tony gets drafted, obviously that’s going to help with recruiting and the program, but for his him and his family it will be huge. It’s a big week.”
Requests last week to interview Neal for this article were unsuccessful, but earlier this summer he told the Journal the attention Snell was getting from the draft process was “really good for the program and the school.”
In an effort to be fully prepared for what to expect at the 27-player training camp this week at the U.S. Olympic training facility in Colorado Springs, both Williams and Kirk said they have picked the brain of several people who have had experience with the USA Basketball program at various levels. Those include Alford (1984 U.S. Olympics), Neal (1987 U.S. Tournament of the Americas team) and longtime friend and La Cueva graduate Bryce Alford. Earlier this month, Bryce Alford, who now lives in Los Angeles and will play for his dad at UCLA, tried out for the USA Basketball Under-19 roster in Colorado Springs. He did not make the final roster of 12, but learned plenty from the experience and has shared his thoughts with Kirk and Williams.
Both Lobos said conditioning is key and credited UNM strength coach Diego Baca and team trainer Nate Burney for helping to get them in top shape for the tryouts.
“The main thing, really, they all said in terms of making the team is you have to be well conditioned,” Williams said. “They look for the best-conditioned guys. They really put you through the grinder those first couple of days.”
Williams and Kirk are looking to be the first Lobo (or Lobos) since Kenny Thomas (1997) to earn a spot on the World University Games roster.
As for Snell, the mystery about whether he’ll be drafted at all seems to be gone. Now, the question is whether he’ll become the eighth Lobo to become a first-round selection.
“I’m going to worry about that when it happens,” Snell said. “I loved my time at UNM and what the coaches did to get me ready for this move. This is a real exciting time.”