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).
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.
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.
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.