Former New Mexico Lobos center Alex Kirk is having success in Japan

By Tom Ballato

Alex Kirk spent four years at the University of New Mexico before forgoing his finale year of eligibility for the NBA Draft. Kirk who committed to New Mexico in 2010, was rated the number 97th overall prospect and the 7th best center in the ESPNU 100 coming into college. He started 21 of 34 games as a freshman averaging 4.7 points per game (ppg) and 3.7 rebounds per game (rpg).

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Alex Kirk at the University of New Mexico. 

Kirk redshirted and sat out his sophomore season due to a back injury, but came back even better during his redshirt-sophomore season. He started 33 out of 35 games and averaged 12.1 points and a 8.1 rebounds, which was a team-high. That year New Mexico won the Mountain West Conference title, but lost in the NCAA Tournament to Harvard. Kirk had a team-high 22 points in the tournament game.

In Kirk’s finale season at New Mexico in 2013-2014, he continued to build off his previous success.  He started all 32 games that year and New Mexico won the Mountain West Conference title again. Kirk finished the season averaging 13.3 ppg and 8.7 rpg and finished with 85 blocks on the year. New Mexico made the NCAA Tournament, fell short to a strong Stanford team.

In 2014, the 7-foot center Alex Kirk has decided to forgo his senior season and declare for the NBA draft. It was a tough decision, but Alex was fully supported by the university. Alex went undrafted in the 2014, but ended up signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers for their NBA Summer League team.

Alex got a contract and signed with Cleveland in 2014 before the NBA season. He appeared in 5 games for Cleveland and spent time on assignment with their NBA D-League affiliate the Canton Charge before being traded to the New York Knicks in a three team trade in 2015. The Knicks waived him after the trade and he returned the Canton Charge to finish out the year.

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Alex with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In the summer of 2015, Alex signed overseas in Italy. He has gone on to play in Italy, China, Turkey, and is currently playing in Japan. Alex has had success in Japan going on to win the Japanese B-League title in 2018.

I talked to Alex about the game he loves and his career thus far.

Who were your biggest influences that got you into the game of basketball?

My biggest influence that gave me the game was my dad. He was a high school coach when I was born and always made sports very available through out my childhood. Never forced basketball on me in any way, but when I told him I wanted to make something of myself using basketball he pushed me everyday. Having him coach me in high school was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me. It wasn’t always easy, but I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything. Without him I would definitely not be where I am today!

You went to college at New Mexico and ended up going undrafted in the 2014. What was the draft process like and what was your biggest learning experience? How many teams did you work out for, did you play summer league?

Yes, I left college one year early after spending four years at New Mexico. It was one of the hardest decisions I had to make. I left a place where I had a very successful and comfortable life, but it was the best decision I have made in my basketball career. After leaving, I trained down at IMG Academy with Dan Barto and company and definitely made huge changes to my body and game. I think I worked out for 14 teams and it was crazy. Starting with the combine all the way to draft day I was never not on the move. For me the biggest experience I had was how hard the pros work on their bodies and how much that had to do with their performance in the season. Draft day was obviously tough, but it worked out in my favor with agreeing to go forward with Cleveland that night.

You signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014. While with the team you spent time on assignment with the Canton Charge (NBA D-League affiliate) and played in a handful of games for the Cavs. What parts of your game did you develop while with Cleveland? Your biggest takeaway from your time in the NBA?

So much was developed and learned during that period of time. Still I’d say I learned more about my body and how to keep taking care of myself. On the court, just learning the NBA game was a huge task, but I had a great group of vets that took care of me every day until I was traded. Watching Kyrie and Lebron everyday was a huge bonus, but the team was always extremely good to me. The biggest takeaway from that experience was the fact that I know and learned that I can play at that level. Knowing I had stuff to work on, but overall I knew I had the skill level and basketball mind to play there.

After your year in Cleveland, you’ve played in  Italy, China, Turkey, and now Japan. What parts of your game have you improved on since your time in Cleveland? Also how would you describe your time your last few years playing overseas?

Overseas has been a rollercoaster ride, but it has been really successful and I love playing overseas. I have improved a lot since Cleveland and I’d say mostly just learning the game and all the different offensive and defensive systems. Also, definitely polished off a lot of offensive skills because as an import overseas you have to score in many ways. Overseas is a challenge just like anything else, but if you take advantage of opportunities you can really get to some cool places around the world.

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Alex playing in Japan.

You played for Eberlein Drive in the TBT Tournament. Do you plan to comeback and play each summer as long as you aren’t playing overseas or under contract?

I have played or tried to play every year since the second year of the tournament. I have played for a few different teams, but I really do enjoy playing with Eberlein Drive. They are really good guys and they work really hard every summer just to give us a chance to play and be successful. I will continue to try and play for sure just never know the schedule and how the summer will plan out.

Has your success overseas garnered any interest from teams to return to the states? Whether that be sign in G-League and work your way to a return to the NBA or summer league?

Yeah, there has been some interest. Nothing big or else I would have acted on it. If the right opportunity came up I would definitely take the risk. I wouldn’t just come back and play in the G league, but if something came up I’d be ready for the opportunity.

Matt Howard: A winner’s mentality

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Photo courtesy of Matt Howard.

By Tom Ballato

Matt Howard played four years at Butler under head coach Brad Stevens. During Stevens tenure at Butler, he brought four conference titles and five NCAA tournament appearances from 2007 to 2013. Stevens lead Butler to back to back NCAA Championship games in 2010 and 2011, where they were inches away from becoming champions. Brad Stevens along with Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard, and company put Butler on the map and to the forefront of the college basketball landscape.

For those who don’t remember Matt Howard, he was Butler’s big man with crazy hair. That is just part of what he was at Butler. He played every game like it was his last. His winner’s mentality along with his ability to crash the boards and out hustle opponents was something special. He was a defender that didn’t backdown from anyone and set good screens to get his teammates open. His game improved each year at Butler and by his senior year, he had become a threat from beyond the arch.

Howard averaged 13.8 points per game during his time at Butler. He was named the Horizon Conference Player of the Year in 2009. He became a key part of Butler’s success and was a leader on and off the court. Howard made a name for himself in the NCAA tournament, out hustling his opponents and doing the dirty work. Following graduation, Howard went undrafted in the 2011 NBA Draft. He has enjoyed a successful seven year career overseas which includes two Summer League stints with the Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies. After suffering a big injury last season, Howard hasn’t felt good enough to get back into basketball and play again.

If this is the end of the line in Matt Howard’s playing career, we will all remember how much fun it was to watch him play at Butler. I’m sure he’ll pursue his next endeavor the same way he approached basketball, with a winners mentality.

 

When did you fall in love with the game of basketball?

MH: I always enjoyed playing with my siblings and neighborhood friends growing up. We played all kinds of other sports, but basketball is the one that I stuck with and played organized exclusively. It was the one sport I’d watch the local high school team play and then have to go play or shoot some shots afterward because I wanted to emulate all I’d seen. That’s where I probably realized what I loved.

While at Butler, the teams you played for put Butler on the map with back to back runs to the NCAA Tournament championship. What did you learn about yourself and the team during your time at Butler? You always played with this grind and grit, you might not have been the top ranked player on the court, but you outplayed and hustled them. Did that also give you an edge in your opinion?

MH: I think it is true that you play with an edge when you’re viewed as the little guy. We talked a lot about being the tougher team and wearing teams down at the some point in the game. We knew at the end of games if it was close, we were gonna find a way to win and that trust and chemistry is hard to break. Most games, it’s true, that I wasn’t the biggest/fastest/strongest, so I took pride in out competing opponents and being in good enough shape to maintain that for the full 40 minutes.

How was it playing under Coach Stevens and do you still have a relationship today?

MH: Yes, coach has been great through the years in being a willing mentor and voice when I’ve needed guidance or in the pursuit of getting better in my knowledge of the game. I was fortunate to have played for him and that coaching staff for four years at Butler. He is elite at both understanding his players and getting to know how they tick and he obviously is great from a tactics standpoint, especially making adjustments during the game. His calm demeanor and quiet confidence translated to us on the floor. Very few coaches can put all of this together, but he has. He is a constant learner and that’s part of how he’s able to stay ahead of the norm.

Where have you played since graduating? You’ve played in the top league in Israel. How would you describe your career so far and what have you’ve improved on your game since college?

MH: I played 7 years in Greece, France, Germany, and Israel. I’d say my career the first 3-4 years was similar to how I played in college my senior year. More at the 4 position and picking and popping with some 5 sprinkled in.  (He played power forward and a little at the center position) After that I started to have injury issues and movement became more limited. As a result, I leaned on being a great screener, hustler, defender, and rebounder to make up for that. Like that I really had to be quicker making reads and decisions and I felt my reading of the game became better during this time.

Are you still close with your Butler teammates (Mack, Hayward, etc)?

MH: I’m not as close as I’d like to be. I enjoy watching both whenever I can. Both have beautiful families and are good guys. Shelvin’s wedding was a highlight of the summer and they rocked it!

What are your plans when your career ends? Do you want to coach?

MH: I think I’m in the midst of figuring that out right now. Trying to determine if I want to get into coaching or if the family is better suited in a more stable situation using my finance and MIS degrees. Hopefully I’ll know sooner rather than later.

Former Hampton Pirate and Los Angeles Laker Devin Green gives hope to those students who attend HBCUs

By Tom Ballato

Hampton University located in Hampton, Virginia, was founded in 1868. It is a private university and is a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). Their mission is to serve and educate the black community. This is something that Devin Green was educated about at a young age by his godparents, who raised him from fourteen years old. He would watch Hampton play North Carolina on television and started learning about African American colleges. When it came time to select a college to play for Green ultimately chose Hampton.

Devin Green played at Hampton University from 2001-2005. He finished his career at Hampton with 1,757 points. Green said, ” I chose Hampton because they were the first school to offer me a full ride scholarship.” He had offers from Miami, St. Joseph’s, and Notre Dame. “I was a late bloomer, by my junior and senior year (high school), I had a lot more offers. Hampton offered me a scholarship my sophomore year. They came to all of my events and there was a big trust factor.” Playing early on was important to Green and the coaching staff was high on him playing as a freshman in college. The fit was mutual.

“I was blown away by the situation I was in.” -Devin Green

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Devin Green supporting his brand H3 Collection..

By the time Green graduated, he knew he made the right choice. His goal at the end of it all was to go to the NBA and the experience helped him by playing all four years. According to Green, he was on the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns draft boards. He worked out for the Phoenix Suns, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers prior to the 2005 NBA Draft. Green went undrafted that year, but this did not stop him from reaching his goals.

When I asked Green about being overlooked coming from a small school, he replied, ” I wouldn’t say I was overlooked. I would say there was a lack of exposure in going to a smaller school. I played great in big games. My freshman year I was on a college insider’s Freshman All American list. Everyone on that list played at some point in the NBA. I was always on the NBA radar and scouts would come to my games.”

During his tenure at Hampton, there was a coaching change between his freshman and sophomore year that affected Green from a statistical standpoint. Even though he went undrafted, Green said, “Hampton put me exactly where I was supposed to be.” Coming from Ohio, Green had the assistance of NBA players during his summer workouts. He grew up with Lebron James and the former Milwaukee Buck, Michael Redd was a mentor of his.  His work over the summers helped him improve and he eventually landed a deal to play for the Lakers.

Green’s time with the Lakers set the tone for his career from a work ethic and professional standpoint. “My improvement from college to after my first year in the NBA skyrocketed.” Green played under coach Phil Jackson and was surrounded by the likes of Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom just to name a few of his teammates. Green spoke highly of the Laker organization. “Being a Laker, in an organization with tradition and that is family oriented was amazing and I was surrounded by greats.”  Green went on to talk about how old players (former Lakers) comeback and want to be a part of the journey and process. “Magic Johnson and James Worthy were there and Scotty Pippen was on the preseason coaching development staff.” Green’s time with the Lakers lasted only one season, but he learned so much about life and the game. This allowed him to add to his game. He had a high IQ for the game and his time in Los Angeles only helped.

“All of these Hall of Fame guys helped and I will be able to give back to the next generation.”

Green had training camps with the Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves, San Antonio Spurs and the New York Knicks in 2012, which was the last NBA team he played for. After the Lakers. Miami signed him to a partially guaranteed deal, but he didn’t end up with the team. All three of these destinations, he spent the summers and preseasons working with these teams. Green discussed that again he played for great coaches and was surrounded by talent, (Shaq, Dwayne Wade, Penny Hardaway and Pat Riley in Miami, Kurt Rambis was the head coach for Minnesota, and Greg Popovich in San Antonio) which was all great experience. After these stops, Green’s basketball career headed overseas.

When asked where he has played, Green laughed and said, “Where haven’t I played”. Green has made stops in Germany, Bulgaria, Italy, Greece, Venezuela, Belgium, China, Algeria with the national team, Ukraine, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Argentina, Mexico, and the NBA Developmental League (with three teams). He has had some good experiences and bad experiences overseas. His favorite spot was in China playing for the Shanghai Sharks. “It was an amazing experience. My head coach was my trainer prior to the draft. The strength and conditioning coach worked with the Rockets.” It was a familiar environment and worth ethic he was used to and he enjoyed the city of Shanghai. “Yao Ming was the president of the team and he brought that NBA mentality.”  Ukraine was one of the toughest places where Green has played. “It was a cold, dark place and they didn’t do a good job finding a solution to the barrier (translator). I had a bad experience, but at the end of the day, it’s not America.”

“We expect the American standard from people who aren’t American.”

Green just finished up his season in China and is enjoying his time off stateside. He averaged 27 ppg (points per game) and 10 rebounds at 36 years old.  He plans to start training again soon and plans to continue to playing in China this upcoming April. Green is also the founder of H3 Collection, which makes apparel inspired by HBCUs. When asked if he plans on coaching when his career is over, Green replied, “I plan to keep my options open.” He wants to mentor kids and go into the HBCUs and develop talent in sports and entertainment.  A position where he can give hope to students attending small schools, a position he was in not too long ago.