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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Men’s Basketball: Lobo center Alex Kirk to declare for NBA draft

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By Aaron Sweet / New Mexico Daily Lobo

New Mexico center Alex Kirk goes up against the Aztec defense in San Diego on Saturday. The New Mexico men’s basketball team is the No. 2 seed for next week’s Mountain West Basketball Championships.

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@JROppenheim

New Mexico center Alex Kirk has made his decision: he will forgo his senior season of eligibility and declare for the NBA Draft.

The Lobos men’s basketball Twitter account, @UNMHoops, announced the decision Friday afternoon after reports surfaced online that Kirk was leaving.

“I just felt it was the right time,” Kirk told the Albuquerque Journal. “People are allowed their opinions, and if they don’t think I’m ready, it’s not that I don’t respect that, but I have bigger things to worry about right now. I loved everything about my time here. I think I have a bright future ahead of me, and I’m ready to start chasing this next dream.”

Kirk completed his junior season with the Lobos after arriving in the same recruiting class with Tony Snell, Kendall Williams and Cameron Bairstow in 2010. Snell departed the team a year ago and was selected by the Chicago Bulls with the No. 20 overall pick. Williams and Bairstow just finished their senior season.

Kirk missed the 2011-12 season after surgery for a herniated disc in his back. He returned the following season and became one of the Mountain West Conference’s best big man. He scored 12.1 points per game behind only Snell and Williams on the team’s scoring list that season.

This past season Kirk increased his scoring average by a point and a half but at times in the nonconference season he was critical of himself for not playing well enough. He helped the Lobos to a runner-up finish in the regular-season standings another MW tournament title in Las Vegas.

He also pulled down 8.7 rebounds and blocked 2.7 shots per game. His 685 career rebounds ranks eighth in program history.

“We are fully supportive of Alex and his decision, and will do everything we can to help him,” head coach Craig Neal said. “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 will also graduate this semester with a degree in marketing

“I think it says a lot about our program and how we develop players that we can have guys declare and be draft-ready as juniors, like Tony Snell and Darington Hobson,” Neal said. “Alex has done a great job academically having completed his degree and he is moving on to the next phase in his career.”

With the departure of the Big Three (Kirk, Bairstow and Williams), the Lobos will lose 67 percent of last season’s scoring output. Starters Hugh Greenwood and Deshawn Delaney are expected to return this season, along with role players Cleveland “Pancake” Thomas, Cullen Neal, Obij Aget and Merv Lindsey — who should all see expanded roles next year.