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"Big" Shoes to Fill

How New Mexico Lobos big man and Los Alamos' own Alex Kirk is exceeding expectations in Drew Gordon's absence.

Ethan Miller

After the inspired conclusion of Drew Gordon's senior year that saw the UNM Lobos narrowly miss a Sweet 16 berth, fans were left wondering who on the roster would come come close to filling the void vacated by his record-shattering production. After all, replacing a veritable double-double machine that was in the conversation for national player of the year is no small task. While Aussie big man Cameron Bairstow was expected to be a much more significant contributor in Gordon's absence, there were plenty of question marks to be had as head coach Steve Alford would have to carefully manage the fouls of his strikingly thin frontcourt.

Flying almost criminally under the radar was Los Alamos' Alex Kirk. The seven-foot F-C redshirted his entire sophomore season for a back injury after having to go under the knife for a herniated disk. Albeit in limited minutes, Kirk flashed plenty promise during his freshman season as a highly touted recruit. While neither an improving Bairstow nor a healthy Kirk were realistically capable of single-handedly replicating the eye-popping numbers of Gordon, they didn't really have to. So long as the two combined to chip in a healthy dose of rebounding and points in the paint while keeping an arm's length away from foul trouble, the Lobos would be in decent shape.

While initial expectations were understandably grounded as some time was certainly expected for Kirk to ease back into action, he has instead quietly (or deafeningly in the confines of The Pit) become the Lobos' second-leading scorer, averaging 12 points-per-game--just shy of guard Kendall Williams' 13.4. Kirk leads all Lobos with 8 rebounds a game and has already accumulated 14 blocks on the season, five more than notoriously gritty and rangy defender Hugh Greenwood.

The most lethal aspect of Kirk's game lies not in his dominating inside presence, but in his ability to consistently drill the fifteen-foot shot that generally eludes a player of his size. Defenders have no choice but to account for Kirk both along the perimeter and in the post as his sparkling 52.2% field goal percentage jumps out on the stat sheet, trailing only senior Chad Adams' 54.1%. Even beyond the arc Kirk has shown a propensity to take the open shot, recording three treys on the season.

"Alex Kirk is back and should be one of the best big men out West." Alford predicted back in August.

His prophecy rings true as the post-game lauding has been a daily occurrence: "He just keeps getting better and better." Alford said of Kirk, following a home win against the Idaho Vandals. "He takes up space. He’s a shot blocker. He changes shots. He’s doing a lot of good things inside for us both offensively and defensively."

It's possible the Lobos won't find a unique talent quite like Gordon for some time. But Kirk's contributions are hardly going unnoticed or unappreciated as the Lobos continue their remarkable unbeaten streak, pushing their RPI-rich 11-0 record to further cement them as an elite mid-major in the weekly rankings (No. 16 in the AP). Gordon won't soon be forgotten in many circles that discuss the best to ever come out of the conference, but at Kirk's pace, it wouldn't be unreasonable to assume he'll find his own place at the top of the Mountain.