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What a long, although not-so-strange trip, it’s been.
For Alex Kirk, one of the most recognizable sports figures ever to come out of Los Alamos, it’s been a busy month and change, but now has a few days’ down time and he’s going to take advantage of it just before what will be perhaps the biggest day of his life.
Kirk is entered into this year’s NBA draft. The draft takes place Thursday in Brooklyn, N.Y. The 2010 Los Alamos High School graduate will have a chance to be the first born, bred and groomed New Mexico player ever to be taken in the draft and suit up for a NBA team.
For now, though, he’s enjoying being in the Land of Enchantment.
“It’s good to be back on what I would call my home turf,” said Kirk, who flew into Albuquerque on Monday and will be in and around that city and Los Alamos before Thursday’s draft. “I’m getting to hang out, just chill a little bit, take a step back and look at all that’s going on.”
Since announcing he was foregoing his final year of eligibility at the University of New Mexico in April and graduating from the school in May, the 7-footer has been on the road almost the entire time.
In the span of just a little over a month, he’s visited close to half the NBA franchises and had telephone interviews with four others to see if they might be interested in his services.
It’s been a long haul, covering well over 15,000 miles, but Kirk has the opportunity of a lifetime and he doesn’t plan on letting it slip.
Only a small handful of Los Alamos athletes have gone on to compete at the professional level, but Kirk said his workouts with teams went very well.
“I think I stack up very well,” he said. “I gave a lot of teams some surprises. I thought I gave them a good showing and proved I belong in this draft. I can play against anyone in this draft.”
Kirk said he didn’t go up against any of the potential high first-rounders while making his rounds to franchises – those athletes generally have their own, 1-on-1 workouts and interviews with teams — but he was facing off against players he will be competing against for possible draft position.
It’s a tough call whether Kirk’s name will be called Thursday. There are precious few NBA experts who are projecting Kirk to go, let alone in the first round.
As New Mexico State University basketball head coach Marvin Menzies said in a recent interview with the Los Alamos Monitor, beyond bragging rights and some psychological advantage, there is very little difference between being drafted in the second round and trying to get in with a team as a free agent, which would likely be Kirk’s next step if he isn’t selected.
Despite those projections, however, one team showed up more than once as being a potential landing spot for Kirk, and it’s not a bad one: the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs, who earned a decisive 4-1 win over the Miami Heat earlier this month to earn the NBA title, is one of the most successful franchises in recent NBA history but one that has an aging lineup and will be looking for fresh bodies to replace some of its veterans.
In Kirk’s case, that could well mean cutting his professional teeth under the tutelage of Hall of Fame shoo-in Tim Duncan.
But whatever happens in his immediate future, Kirk said the experience of just working out for these teams is one he’ll never forget.
“It’s awesome to go to these NBA facilities and put on their practice jerseys and play for these teams,” he said.
While Kirk is in town, he’s planning on hanging out with some of his old friends from high school, including former Hilltopper teammates Jack Russell and Doug Hardy.
While he might do some light basketball workouts during his time off, he’s actually planning on hitting the baseball field and taking a few swings, too.
Coming up on Thursday, Kirk said he’s not sure whether he’s going to be glued to the TV or skip out on watching the draft — something he’s watched without fail every year since he was a little kid.
If he elects not to watch but he gets a call from a team or his agent, Grant Boone, he’ll know he’s been picked. If he doesn’t, he knows there is still more work to do to fulfill his lifelong dream.
Either way, Kirk will have his fingers crossed that he’ll be drafted.
“I’ve played that scenario out in my head since I was 6 years old and holding a basketball,” Kirk said.
“If I’m a second round pick, it’ll be just like being an undrafted player. I still have to try to make a team in October.”