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Friday, December 19, 2014

Former Lobos hopeful for this year's NBA draft

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By Sergio Jiménez / New Mexico Daily Lobo

New Mexico guard Kendall Williams, 10, calls on forward Cameron Bairstow, 41, and center Alex Kirk, 53, to review a play during a Feb. 22 games against San Diego State. The trio are among the potential picks for the 2014 NBA daft on June 26.

Three former New Mexico men’s basketball players are about to discover the next phase in their playing careers.

Ex-Lobos Cameron Bairstow, Alex Kirk and Kendall Williams are available in this year’s NBA draft, scheduled for 5:00 p.m. MT Thursday in Brooklyn, New York.

As of Sunday afternoon, mock drafts for NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Fox Sports and drafting news site draftexpress.com do not list Bairstow, Kirk or Williams among the players predicted to be taken in either the first or second rounds.

Several other mock drafts, like one from ESPN’s Chad Ford, only offer a projected first round and do not include any of the Lobo trio.

However, CBSSports.com college basketball insider Gary Parrish does list the three among his top 100 NBA draft prospects. Parrish placed center Kirk at No. 86, power forward Bairstow at 91 and point guard Williams at 94.

And anything can happen in the draft. Last year the Cleveland Cavaliers shocked pundits by selecting UNLV’s Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 overall pick. Former Lobo Tony Snell, who some projected as a second-round pick, went to the Chicago Bulls as the 20th selection.

“Who knows at this stage?” Bairstow said in a phone interview. “It’s something where I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from a lot of teams. It’s just a case of seeing what happens on draft night.”

Bairstow said Friday that he worked out with 11 different NBA clubs, while Williams told the Daily Lobo on Thursday he participated in 10 workouts prior to the weekend, capped by stops in Memphis and Minnesota. The Daily Lobo was unable to reach Kirk through his agents or social media.

Williams said that during his workout in Chicago he roomed with Kirk, and the two spent time with Bairstow as well.

“We were encouraging each other, more than anything,” Williams said. “We’re all in the same boat.”

Both Williams and Bairstow said they haven’t made changes to their game during this process, but it is natural to pick up information along the way.

“You learn a little bit from each workout against the competition,” Bairstow said. “You can’t really change much in that few-week period significantly, so you just go out and show your strengths as a basketball player, which is really what they’re interested in.”

The three anchored the Lobo offense last season – Bairstow at 20.3 points per game, Williams at 16.4 and Kirk at 13.6 – and led the team to another Mountain West Conference tournament championship.

Bairstow and Williams capped their senior seasons while Kirk opted to forgo his final year of eligibility at UNM to declare for the draft.

In a video posted on the Utah Jazz website dated June 6, Kirk said he dropped 10 pounds after training at an academy in Florida, which “was just huge for me;” but he has been striving to build as a player and learn the nuances of the NBA level.

“It’s definitely a different game from college – a lot more physical,” he said. “You’re playing against men now. There’s not a lot of time to change a lot, but show I can put the ball on the floor for a dribble and make moves in the post.”

For Bairstow, much was made by the Albuquerque media of his development as a player, particularly from his junior to senior season. He improved his scoring average by 10 points, became a dominant force in the Mountain West and received the tournament MVP award.

That suggests the question, how high is his ceiling? He called it a “normal ceiling,” adding that his biggest attribute is realizing his full potential.

“I think this past year, as well as all four years, my development as a basketball player has been speeding up rather than slowing down,” he said.

Even if none of the players get drafted Thursday, other basketball options exist. Williams said he’ll continue to play basketball as long as the opportunities are available, whether they be in the NBA, another stateside professional league or overseas.

“I understand there are many ways to the NBA and the draft isn’t the first and last opportunity,” Williams said. “I’m going to play basketball as long as it provides the opportunity to make a living off of, and as long as my passion is there for it.”

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