The Rio Grande Rivalry knows no offseason.
Riding the coattails of last summer’s successful inaugural Lobo all-star alumni game event that drew an announced crowd of nearly 9,500 to the Pit in June, event organizers have upped the ante for the sequel.
On June 25, a team of former University of New Mexico Lobos and one comprised of former New Mexico State Aggies, will play again in the Pit.
The game is being spearheaded Cameron Bairstow, the Chicago Bulls forward and former Lobos great, and Brandon Mason, the former Aggie guard who is now on the coaching staff at NMSU and formerly a video coordinator at UNM, and will follow Bairstow’s second annual, three-day youth skills camp.
And, unlike last summer, don’t expect this year’s game to be just about smiles and handshakes.
“In terms of the nature of the game, there will be some things different,” said Bairstow. “Last year, it was a little more of an exhibition, but with the nature of the rivalry, we’re going to run it more like an actual college game — college rules, 20 minute halves, referees. We’re really going to run it more like an actual game this year.”
While professional contracts and fluctuation in when seasons might end in various leagues around the world prevent Bairstow and Mason from saying for sure all the players who plan to participate, the 6-foot-10 Aussie says there may be more of an issue of keeping the roster sizes down to 11 or 12 than trying to find enough former players.
The event’s promotional poster features three of last year’s participants in the Lobo all-star game — Danny Granger, Dairese Gary and Alex Kirk — as well as three recent NMSU Aggies — Daniel Mullings, Tshiliszi Nephawe and Sim Bhullar. Most of the players in June’s game are current or recent professional players.
“All the guys we’re getting are quality guys,” Bairstow said. “And that’s a credit to Brandon and the relationships he has with players and former players, really with both programs. A lot of these guys (from NMSU) like Daniel Mullings and Sim Bhullar, right when we asked them, they were excited to get back together and be a part of this thing.”
After last year’s game, Bairstow donated $16,000 to the Lobo Club and Hugh Greenwood’s Pink Pack Foundation with some of the revenue from the event.
UNM, Bairstow said, has been eager to get this event back on the map after the success of last season’s game. And while nothing is set in stone, Bairstow and Mason hope logistics work so a future game can also be held in Las Cruces.
Before the glowing feedback from last year’s game started to come in, Bairstow and Mason already had hopes of making this game with both programs involved come to life.
“Even before the last game, he (Mason) mentioned if we can pull this off, (a game involving both school’s alumni) is what we should try to do and fans were even talking about this being something they would love to see.”
Tickets for this year’s game are already on sale at the UNM Ticket Office or online at www.UNMTickets.com under the heading “Lobos vs. Aggies Alumni Game.” The pricing ranges from $14-$29 for lower bowl seats with club level seating available starting at $35, according to the web site.
The June 22-24 Cameron Bairstow Basketball Camp, open to boys and girls, costs $150 and information on that is available by calling Kevin McCurdy at (505) 412-3499 or on several social media accounts set up (Twitter and Instagram @BattleofRG or on Facebook by searching Battle of the Rio Grande).