Ruben Douglas hasn’t made the walk down the Pit ramp, let alone been back to Albuquerque, since 2003.
It’s been long enough.
Not only is the 2003 NCAA scoring champion planning to come back to one of his old college stomping grounds, but he’s coming back to play another game on Bob King Court. He will join star-studded cast of former UNM Lobo men’s basketball stars of the past 15 years in the inaugural Lobo All Star Game on June 28.
“This is going to be fun,” said the 35-year-old Douglas, who now lives in the Phoenix area. “I miss it. I miss the popcorn smell. I miss the people — the whole ambiance. As for going down the Pit ramp — I miss the competitive aspect of it all. It will be great. Everybody there, they’re great fans. They take care of you and that’s what I miss.”
In conjunction with the first Cameron Bairstow Skills camp being put on at UNM from June 26-28, Douglas and more than a dozen other former Lobos who went on to play professionally after their playing days at UNM were over will return to play an exhibition in the Pit on June 28. Portions of the proceeds for the game will go to the Lobo Club and to the Pink Pack Foundation for breast cancer research.
The list of players who have said they plan to attend to both help in the camp and play in the game include Douglas, Bairstow, Danny Granger, Tony Snell, J.R. Giddens, Alex Kirk, Drew Gordon, Kendall Williams, Tony Danridge, Dairese Gary, Phillip McDonald, Deshawn Delaney, Jamal Fenton and Emmanuel Negedu.
Some other notable recent Lobos who aren’t expected, for now, to be playing include Daniel Faris (injured, but will be at the game), Darington Hobson and Roman Martinez (prior engagements), Chad Toppert and Hugh Greenwood (who is expected to be abroad).
The event started out as Bairstow and former UNM assistant coach Brandon Mason, now an assistant at New Mexico Highlands University, brainstorming over how many former players they could lure back to Albuquerque to participate in Bairstow’s first camp after his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls. It quickly turned into a rather obvious next step.
“With all these guys coming back to work the camp, at first we thought we’d maybe try to have a game just for those at the camp,” said Mason, who is helping organize the camp and separate all-star game. “But it was Cam and his name —his playing with the Bulls that really got the ball rolling on actually getting this. It says a lot about Cam putting this together and all the love these guys have for Lobo basketball that they’re coming back to do this.”
Bairstow said the camp in particular, then the idea for the all-star game after, were easy decisions.
“I always remember when I was a growing up playing basketball and the most fun I ever had was going to basketball camps and learning from great coaches,” said Bairstow. “I know I learned a lot from these camps and wouldn’t be in the position I am today if I hadn’t gone. Now that I am a professional, I see the process coming full circle and would like the chance to help other young basketballers accomplish their dreams.”
The game, which will include autograph sessions and a slam-dunk contest, will feature two squads of former Lobos playing against each other, though how the teams will be divided up has not yet been determined. Each player still under a professional contract has been given an OK to play in the event.
So with the competitive juices flowing, should fans expect some all-time great performances from the former Lobos?
“Man, don’t go expecting 50 points out of me,” said Douglas, who last played organized ball as a pro overseas in 2011. “I need to get in shape for that.”
But that doesn’t mean Douglas feels he needs any work on his jump shot. “That’s like riding a bike, baby,” he laughed. “That’s nothing. I still got that. But getting out in transition, man I don’t know about all that running, especially with that altitude.”
While UNM is not the primary organizer of the game (i.e. getting the players to participate or arranging their travel, lodging, or other issues associated with the game), the school is helping facilitate the event by waiving all the normal fees associated with use of the facility.
Mike Haggerty, assistant athletic dDirector for Events at UNM, said there are costs the university cannot eat that will be billed to Bairstow. Those are primarily labor costs for security, cleanup and janitorial work. While concession stands will be open for the game, those are run by UNM, which will collect the revenue.
Tickets for the game will start at $8 and can be purchased through the UNM ticket office (unmtickets.com). Information on Bairstow’s camp can be found online at CameronBairstowCamp.com, as can information on this week’s Craig Neal camps at UNM (CoachCraigNeal.com).