Alex Kirk was born in Los Alamos, New Mexico in 1991. He attended Los Alamos High School before being recruited by Steve Alford to play for the University of New Mexico. Kirk spent four seasons with the Lobos, red-shirting one year, making himself eligible for the NBA this past summer.
As a junior, this past season, the 7-0, 245-pound center averaged 13.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks. He is now a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
— Alex Kirk (@kingkirk53) August 12, 2014
Brendan Bowers: On August 11, you signed a contract to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers and begin your professional career. What was going through your mind when you sat down at that table?
Alex Kirk: It’s kinda just like, wow, this is finally happening. Not that it took a long time to get done, it’s just that you look at your whole life. Then all of a sudden, your whole basketball career turns into four pieces of paper where you initial and sign your name. I mean, it’s kind of a big deal. You’re just thinking, wow, this was the ultimate goal, and you want to say you reached it, but now it’s a whole new level. It’s like when you sign your letter of intent to play D-I basketball. Here it is, here is a whole different level. I made it, but now we have to reassess the goals. That’s something I’m in the process of doing right now. It’s just step-by-step, every time you take another leap there is a whole new level of achievement and goals that you now want to strive for.
BB: Twelve months ago, you were preparing for your junior season in hopes of reaching that goal of playing in the NBA. Now you’re preparing to play alongside LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and the rest of the Cavaliers. What went into these last 12 months to get you here?
AK: It’s a process, as everyone says. But that’s been the goal, that’s been the goal the whole time–to be able to play professional basketball in the best League in a world. At this time last year, we had just gotten back from my trip to Russia with the Team USA University team, and I played against a ton of kids who were in the draft along with others who will get drafted next year. I just knew that this was going to be the year, this was going to be the time. I went into the year trying to work hard, have a great season with my guys. And I enjoyed college, enjoyed being a part of the New Mexico team. Then I went on and just did my best throughout the season and it got me to a very good situation that I’m very pleased with.
BB: Prior to arriving at New Mexico, you were the 116th ranked prospect according to Rivals.com coming out of high school in 2010. In that same high school class, Kyrie Irving was ranked No. 4, Tristan Thompson was No. 17 and Dion Waiters was No. 29. Did you ever play with or against those guys throughout the AAU circuit growing up?
AK: I actually remember playing against Tristan Thompson when he was up playing for Grassroots in Canada. I played for Houston Hoops, and I don’t know if he remembers me, but I remember playing against Tristan. He was a pretty solid player back then too. Kyrie Irving, he was at my NBA Top 150 camp at Virginia when we were going to be seniors. A lot of these kids have been around, and now they’re here, so it’s kinda cool.
Kyrie was obviously one of the best players in the country then. Even Dion Waiters, I remember him being at the LeBron Camp when I was there. So yeah, I mean, it’s crazy, I know I’m not one of the most known guys around, but I’ve been around all these guys for a while. Which is actually kinda funny now that I think of it, to say that we all went to the LeBron James Skills Academy at the same time and now we’re all playing on the same team as LeBron.
BB: In college, you competed against Wyoming star Larry Nance Jr. in the Mountain West Conference. Talented young player whose father is also a Cavaliers legend. I’ve seen you guys tweeting back and forth at each other, can you describe your relationship with Larry?
AK: Yeah, first off, I know his dad is a pretty big deal. I’ve met the whole family and they’re just a super group of people. Larry is an outstanding dude and obviously a great athlete. It was unfortunate he had an injury last year but he’s coming back strong from that. I actually saw him when I was up in Cleveland signing my contract. So that was really cool. We had some really good battles over the last three years and I have no question that he’ll make it to the next level once he’s healed up and ready to go. Super great player, and I definitely like playing and competing against him. And his Dad was the first ever slam dunk champion if I’m not wrong?
BB: You’re right. 1984, he dunked two basketballs at the same time.
AK: Exactly. And there is no question that Junior can do the same thing. Also in our conference, we had Malcolm Thomas—who’s here now—he was my guard freshman year when we played against San Diego State. I had run-ins with Jimmer Fredette, Kawhi Leonard, Jamaal Franklin, and to be quite honest, I think we had some pretty decent squads over at New Mexico my four years too. I was pretty lucky with the college experience.
BB: So your Twitter handle is @KingKirk53. What is the story behind that, and has anybody asked you to change it now that you’re playing with King James?
AK: [Laughs] The story is this: We were escaping a Walmart my freshmen year in college. I’m with Cameron Bairstow, who’s with the Chicago Bulls now and is one of my best friends. We were going through Walmart, and randomly, out of a side aisle, some guy jumps out. He points at me, and yells in a Spanish accent: “Oh, that’s King Kirk!” And it just kinda stuck from there. I’m not sure, but I might have to talk to some of the fans to see if I should change it. But we’ll see, it’s all fun and games. I’ll definitely let the Cleveland fans decide if I should change that or not.
BB: If they hear the story, I think they might want you to keep it. That’s a pretty good Walmart story.
AK: Yeah, it is pretty funny. But I definitely don’t want to start some Game of Thrones thing in Cleveland by any means. That’s just how it happened. We weren’t allowed to have Twitter until that year with Coach Alford, who’s at UCLA now. So that next week, after that happened, that’s when we got Twitter. And it was just natural. Like, how could I not do that? It has no connection to LeBron or anything like that, but that’s just what it was, and I just haven’t changed it since.
BB: Have you had a chance to speak with any of the veterans on this Cavs roster yet, and what are you looking to learn from some of those guys?
AK: I talked with Mike Miller a little bit because his brother coached me at New Mexico, Ryan Miller, he’s at UNLV now. So I got to talk with him a little bit. My approach is, I take in a lot. I’m not gonna be the guy who comes out there and talks a lot and is extremely outgoing, but I use my ears and use my eyes very well and I learn by watching people. I think this is a perfect situation for me to see a lot of different things, learn from and take things from all these guys.
I mean, it’d be a lie to say I didn’t watch a lot of Kevin Love last year, and that kinda stuff. Doing all the little things that Anderson Varejao does is huge. I watched a ton of NBA basketball over the years and I’ve been watching Brendan Haywood for a while, too. You know what I mean? I can go around to each guy and say, hey, I can take something from each player. That’s part of the process, every basketball player goes through, watching guys who are better than you, and have been doing what you’re doing longer. Taking little things from them to keep your career alive. That’s just part of it. I have to figure out what I am going to do to belong, and what I’m going to bring to the table, and then keep improving on it.
BB: What did you learn from the Summer League experience, and what are you working on now to prepare for the season?
AK: It’s a lot to learn, going to Summer League. And it’s a different process. Obviously, I had a great time at Summer League playing for Coach Blatt. Playing with and against a lot of great players. At that time, I was just trying to take it all in and learn. I never played in a game where there was defensive three seconds, you know? So that was something to adjust to. Just the speed of the game, the strength of the game. And obviously, when you watch the Summer League you can tell who the guys that played in the NBA last year were. There wasn’t any surprise, those guys stood out. So you just take little things, learn from it, and move on.
I’ll be honest, I think I struggled in areas at Summer League. But I think I did a lot of little good things and I think that’s what they’re looking for–is for me to just keep working as hard as I can and keep improving on those things. I know there’s a lot, I know I need to figure out the defensive rotation, keep working on that, getting quicker, faster and stronger. But I think I can definitely adjust to all those things.
BB: What can Cavs fans expect to see from Alex Kirk this season in Cleveland?
AK: I just want to be that big guy who comes in with the chances I get and work as hard as I possibly can. All I’m looking to do is get better as a player and person and I know I’m with the right organization to do that. I’m extremely excited about the opportunity to be able play at the Q, to be able play alongside the guys who are on this team. I know it’s going to take time. But I’m pretty excited to take on the challenges and become the best basketball player I can possibly be for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Follow Alex Kirk on Twitter: @KingKirk53
Photo: Jack Arent/NBAE via Getty Images