LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Without hesitation, they both remembered.
An hour before their NBA summer league game Monday night in the Thomas & Mack Center, former UNM Lobo Alex Kirk in his New York Knicks warmups, and former Wyoming Cowboy Larry Nance Jr., in his Los Angeles Lakers gear, recalled not only the last time the two played against each other, but exactly how it ended.
“I missed a fade away jumper over him,” Nance said.
“It was in overtime in the Pit,” Kirk added.
More than 15 months after that Feb. 5, 2014 game in the Pit, the pair were again wearing opposing uniforms, although in very difference circumstances.
Nance, a first-round draft pick last month of the Lakers, has a guaranteed contract this coming season with Los Angeles. Kirk, who is playing in the NBA summer league for his second summer and with his third team, is again trying to make enough of an impression with the plethora of NBA player personnel folks who flock to Las Vegas each July. He hopes to earn another invitation to an upcoming training camp, as he did last year with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Based on his play Monday – 10 points, seven rebounds, two assists and multiple defensive stops in 22 minutes in the Knicks 76-66 win – he’s confident in his chances moving forward.
“It did feel good, but I could have done a little better,” Kirk said. “I could have hit a couple more shots, but this was just my second day with the team, so I’m still getting into a rhythm with them.”
Kirk played five games last week with the Memphis Grizzlies in the Orlando NBA summer league before flying to Las Vegas and joining the Knicks over the weekend.
The 2010 Los Alamos High and 2014 UNM graduate made the Cavaliers’ opening-night roster last year after a strong summer league showing. He played most of the 2014-15 season with the D-League’s Canton Charge after being traded to, then released by the Knicks.
Now, he wants to stick around. Knicks president Phil Jackson, who was courtside Monday, said in a halftime interview the team is looking for a backup center. That bodes well for Kirk, but he also has plenty of chances elsewhere.
“There’s a lot of good opportunities in Europe,” Kirk said. “… We’ll start getting serious with them later, but I think if I keep playing like that (Monday’s game), I think I’ll get a good opportunity to get into an NBA camp or two and that’s the big thing right now. The NBA is where I want to be.”
If you ask his old MWC foe, Kirk is headed down the right path. After a couple Kirk jump shots and a nice assist in transition, Nance looked over at Kirk at one point during the game and said, “Dude, you’re getting a contract.”
After the game, Nance confirmed that was his message, adding “He played like a man out there.”
FAN IN THE STANDS: La Cueva High graduate Kory Alford, the former Lobo/former UCLA Bruin, was in the stands at the Thomas & Mack Center on Monday cheering on his friend and former teammate Alex Kirk.
Alford, who wrapped up his final season as a player at UCLA this past season, was in Las Vegas for a sports technology conference. He’s hoping to break into coaching by the end of summer as a video coordinator for some college team.
During the 2011-12 season at UNM, when Alford was a walk-on and Kirk was redshirting after back surgery, the two teamed during several frequent two-on-two matchups against two of UNM’s assistant coaches that season – Ryan Miller and Dairese Gary.
Kirk and Alford claim to have bested the coaches in those battles – claims Miller, now an assistant at UNLV, and Gary have both denied.