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Even before the 2013-14 college basketball season, there had been speculation as to what the immediate future might bring for one of the premier athletes ever to come out of Los Alamos.
Now, he’s made it official.
Alex Kirk, former Los Alamos High School star and member of the University of New Mexico Lobos, has officially declared himself eligible for the NBA draft. UNM made the announcement Friday afternoon.
Kirk, a 7-foot center who joined the Lobos immediately after graduating from LAHS in 2010, had a year of eligibility left to play college basketball, but decided to forgo that final year and enter his name in the draft.
Alan Kirk, Alex’s father, municipal court judge and Hilltopper head coach during Alex’s prep career, said Friday the family had sat down with Alex and discussed his future following the end of the Lobos’ season. Ultimately, it seemed for the Kirks that heading into the draft was the best thing to do.
As of Friday afternoon when the news broke of Kirk’s throwing his hat into the ring for the NBA, he had not signed with a sports agent, meaning he could still theoretically change his mind and return to college basketball — once he signs with an agent, however, he is no longer allowed to play at the collegiate level.
Kirk will officially graduate from UNM this spring with a degree in marketing — he had already finished up the requirements for a bachelor’s degree.
Following his graduation, Kirk will begin training in preparation for the NBA draft, which will be in late June, shortly after the conclusion of the NBA Finals.
Should he be drafted, Kirk will become one of just a small handful of Los Alamos athletes in history to play in one of the country’s four major professional sports leagues.
The announcement comes three weeks after the Lobos took part in the NCAA championship tournament. The Lobos, who were spearheaded this season by big men Kirk and Cameron Bairstow this season, were the No. 7 seed in the South Region but were bounced in the round of 64 by the Stanford Cardinal 58-53.
UNM won the Mountain West tournament for the third year in a row, topping conference regular season champion San Diego State for the title, but for the third year in a row, was taken out in its first tournament game.
Kirk had a solid 2013-14 season with the Lobos. He averaged 13.6 points per game and 8.7 rebounds heading into the NCAA tournament, along with leading the team in blocked shots, with 85.
Kirk was named to the third team All-Mountain West and was a two-time All-MW defensive team selection.
“We are fully supportive of Alex and his decision, and will do everything we can to help him,” said Lobo head coach Craig Neal in a press release released Friday. “I recruited Alex since he was a sophomore in high school, and I have been able to work with him and watch his development.”
Kirk was one of Neal’s big proponents to get the UNM job following the departure of Steve Alford right before the Lobos’ 2013 NCAA tournament appearance — the Lobos were stunned in the first round by Harvard.
Kirk leaves UNM as the No. 8 rebounder in school history (685 career boards) and as the No. 4 shot blocker in school history (168).
Kirk also became the 32nd member of UNM’s 1,000-point club. He made it into the club with his 8 points in the MW championship game against San Diego State March 15.
Several former UNM players have gone through the professional ranks, including 7-footer Luc Longley, who played for the NBA champion Chicago Bulls in the early 1990s, and Kenny Thomas, a longtime member of the Houston Rockets.
In last year’s NBA draft, Lobo sophomore Tony Snell was taken in the first round by the Chicago Bulls.
Kirk’s other option, besides declaring for the draft or staying put, was to leave UNM and join with another collegiate program, an option many speculators thought he might take.
Among the other teams that might have been interested in a year of his services was UCLA, which is now the home base of Alford. Alford was the head coach of the Lobos when Kirk joined up with them.
The UNM press release said that Kirk would release a statement through his agent this weekend.