At the end of a nine-day trip to Australia that featured as much bonding as basketball, New Mexico players are returning to Albuquerque satisfied with what they've gained.
They walked the Sydney Harbour Bridge. They dabbled in Australian Rules Football. They snapped photos with kangaroos and koalas. And they even got a jumpstart on what could be a memorable season for a program that returns four starters from a team that swept the Mountain West regular season and tournament titles last year.
Even though top freshman Cullen Neal spent the week in a Sydney hospital recovering from appendicitis and starting forward Cameron Bairstow didn't play in two games due to Australian national team duty, New Mexico still went undefeated on its trip. The Lobos won all three exhibition games they played against Australian professional teams, proving their toughness by erasing second-half deficits in each of the victories and getting accustomed to new coach Craig Neal's leadership style in the process.
It's difficult to gain too much insight into next season's Lobos from just three exhibition games on foreign soil, but there were some encouraging signs to cull from the trip.
Alex Kirk continued to solidify himself as one of the nation's better returning big men, averaging 21 points and nine rebounds on the trip and shooting an efficient 52.1 percent from the field. Bairstow showed signs of building on the improvement he made last year, scoring 22 points on only 10 shots against the Sydney Kings before leaving to play for the national team. And playmaking guards Kendall Williams and Hugh Greenwood both excelled creating offense off the dribble, combining to average 32.3 points and 9.3 assists in three games.
If the biggest questions facing New Mexico entering the trip were who would replace Tony Snell in the starting lineup and where bench production would come from, then both those are still up in the air as the Lobos return home. The appendectomy delayed Neal's Lobos debut a few months, while wings Cleveland Thomas and Arthur Edwards both contributed in spurts but lacked consistency.
Of course, basketball wasn't foremost on the minds of any of the Lobos on their final day in Australia before boarding a flight for Albuquerque at 6 a.m. Tuesday morning. They donned wetsuits and spent the morning taking a surfing lesson before spending the rest of the day shopping for souvenirs and using up what's left of their Australian currency. Williams, Greenwood and Kirk chat with the team's surf instructor below in the final video diary of the series.
Kendall Williams, Hugh Greenwood and Alex Kirk:
Video of the Lobos trying to surf: