By Mark Smith
Editor in Chief
NOTE: Kuiper missed some practices this week with a shoulder injury he suffered during the public scrimmage on Oct. 19, but isn’t expected to miss many more.
The faces and the uniforms around him have changed many times over the past four years.
The coaches on his bench have done the same.
And the philosophies of the program are night and day from when Dane Kuiper first came to the University of New Mexico basketball team as a freshman in 2015.
Sure, kind of confusing?
“You’ve just got to go with the flow,” Kuiper says with a smile. “It was all out of my hands.”
So was much else during the 6-foot-7 senior’s Pit stop.
The guy who recruited Kuiper to Loboland – ex-coach Craig Neal – was later booted out of it.
Then, after Neal made a mess of the hoops program, the guy who fired Neal – athletic director Paul Krebs – resigned after allegedly making a mess of the UNM athletics department.
Krebs retired in June, in the midst of allegations for money laundering and embezzlement. New Mexico Attorney General Hector Baldares is leading that charge that included a warrant for Krebs’ banking information this week, but Krebs’ lawyer says his client has done nothing wrong.
In the meantime, there have been budget problems in the athletic department, some sports were sliced and attendance is down across the Lobo board – event at the hallowed Pit.
But while it’s been a wild four years all around Loboland, Dane Kuiper handles it as smoothly as he takes his jump shot.
And he’s looking to make his senior year something to remember.
“I am confident about my role this season, and I’m confident about this team,” Kuiper told Enchantment Sports. “I think we’re going to have a big year.”
Lobo fans can catch a glimpse of Kuiper the team tonight (Oct. 19) during an intrasquad scrimmage in the Pit. The evening starts at 6 p.m. and gates open at 4 p.m.
Kuiper, an athletic guard/forward and guard Anthony Mathis are the only two seniors who have played for UNM each of the past four years.
“There have been a lot of adjustments,” Kuiper says, nodding his head. “But the biggest thing about adjustment, is going along with everything that happens. Everything happens for a reason.
“If you fight it, it will more than likely turn out bad. You can choose to fight some things, but you just got to go with the flow most of the time and take the punches as they go.”
Sounds a little like a California kid growing up near the beach, wouldn’t you say?
Geographically, Kuiper wasn’t far away from California during his last two years of high school – coming to New Mexico from Corona del Sol High School in Tempe, Ariz., – but that was a far cry from where he was raised in “The Last Frontier.”
“Wasilla, Alaska,” he says. “I loved Alaska.”
And that love for the state and what it offered could eventually lead him back to his roots.
But not for a while, at least.
“I’m definitely going to try and play professionally somewhere next year,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to go to Australia, so if I can, I’ll go play out there. That would be amazing for me.
“But I really don’t know what I want to do after that. I’ve always been into wildlife since I grew up in Alaska. I’d like to be a wildlife trooper or something like that. That would be awesome.”
One thing he does know, is whether he lands in Australia, Alaska or any place in between, “I can’t do anything where I’m expected to sit at a desk. I don’t want to do that.”
Kuiper hasn’t spent a whole lot of time sitting since his freshman year at UNM. He averaged 1.5 points and 1 rebound that year, but still played in 25 games. As a sophomore, he started in half of the 26 games he played and really started to display his all-around value on the court.
Second-year Lobo coach Paul Weir coached against Kuiper that sophomore year when Weir was head man at New Mexico State.
Weir said Kuiper is one of those guys who might not be on a lot of opposing coaches’ pregame radars, but it doesn’t take him long to start blinking on the screen once the game begins.
“I think he’s always been that player.,” Weir says. “He was that for us last year. He just does a whole lot of things well.”
Last year, as a junior, Kuiper started 26 times and played all 34 games. He averaged 6.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.5 assists. He shot 35.9 percent from the floor, but just 31 percent from 3-point range as he hit a couple of heath-scratching slumps midway through the year, going 0-for-17 in one four game stretch and later 0-for-8 in a three-game run.
“He’s so steady, Weir says. “He’s such a well-rounded player, because he can rebound the ball so well, because he can defend so well, because he has so much on-court experience.
“He’s just a guy you almost need to have on the floor a lot, just because he can do everything so well. Last year was just unique, because he went through such shooting swings.
Hopefully, this year, he’ll be a little more consistent shooting the ball.”
Weir said he sees Kuiper playing a major role in how much success the Lobos have this season, and he’s got the game that “definitely” translates into playing professionally somewhere next year.
“A lot of players nowadays are specialists; whether they’re athletes or shooters or shot-blockers or rebounders or whatever.” Weir says. “Getting someone like Dane, who doesn’t really have any holes in his game and kind of fills in so many gaps for you, he can be of tremendous value. Those kind of players are rare these days.”
Kuiper said his parents, Shannon and William Kuiper, both moved to Albuquerque while their son was in college, but he doesn’t live with them.
“They’re both part of my life right now, but they also try to stay out of it,” he says.
And as much as Kuiper, who says he’s on pace to graduate this year with a degree in communications and a minor in psychology – and who has his own business cards, courtesy of his grandfather: Dane Kuiper/University of New Mexico – likes to go with the flow, he did say he’d like to see something change in the program.
A Sweet 16, maybe, Dane?
“That would be nice,” he says, with a grin. “I think we’re going to have a really special year.”
Mark Smith has worked in New Mexico sports journalism for four decades in print, television and radio, and has won more sports journalism awards than anyone in state history. He is the editor in chief of Enchantment Sports. Contact him at mark.enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.