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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Chicago Bulls grab Cameron Bairstow by the horns

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By William Aranda / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Cameron Bairstow

An Australian-born basketball player completes his collegiate career at New Mexico, and then finds the Chicago Bulls as a professional landing ground.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

With the Bulls selecting Cameron Bairstow on the 49th overall pick in Thursday night’s NBA draft, the former Lobo power forward has a chance to follow in the footsteps of Luc Longley. Longley played for the Bulls from 1994 to 1998.

As a second-round selection, Bairstow is not guaranteed a contract with the Bulls like first-rounders, but he will be a part of Chicago’s squad for the NBA Summer League that takes place July 11-21 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The Daily Lobo tried to reach Bairstow for comment after the draft, but those attempts were unsuccessful.

“I spoke to the general manager and the coach on draft night and they were excited to have me come in over the next couple of days and then join them for summer league and go from there,” Bairstow said in a story from Saturday’s Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald.

“I thought it worked out well because the Bulls fit my style of play and were interested in me, so I’ll get a chance to play myself into the equation,” Bairstow said.

There certainly are differences between Bairstow’s and Longley’s stories.

The Minnesota Timberwolves drafted Longley, and he played there from 1991 to 94 before joining Chicago. Longley also had stops in Phoenix and New York.

Longley now serves as an assistant coach for the Australian national team, which also features Bairstow.

“Bairs is a fairly quiet young man; he won’t talk himself out of a team,” Longley told the Sydney newspaper. “But he is very professional, that’s what struck me around him. For a young bloke he takes good care of his body. He is strong and very professional.”

Bairstow made steady progression during his four years at UNM before his breakout season in 2013-14. He won the Mountain West Conference scoring title with 20.4 points per game, improving his scoring average by 10 points. The conference player of the year race came down to him and San Diego State’s Xavier Thames, but the award went to Thames as the Aztecs claimed the regular-season crown.

Bairstow arrived in New Mexico in 2010 as part of what proved to be a superb recruiting class with center Alex Kirk and guards Tony Snell and Kendall Williams. Forward Drew Gordon joined the team that same year as a transfer from UCLA. That group helped bring UNM two Mountain West regular-season titles and three conference tournament titles.

Gordon (2012), Snell (2013) and Bairstow (2014) also claimed the tournament’s MVP award, and Williams captured the player of the year honors in 2013.

Based on media reports, all five players are expected to be a part of the Summer League. Williams and Kirk, who also declared for the NBA draft, did not get selected. Snell joined the Bulls as the No. 20 pick in last year’s draft. Gordon, meanwhile, has played overseas.

Another in-state product, New Mexico State’s 7-foot-4 center Sim Bhullar, went undrafted as well. He, too, is expected to participate in the Summer League, according to media reports.

J.R. Oppenheim is the assistant sports editor and web editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at assistantsports@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @JROppenheim.