As Alex Len approached the podium sporting a Phoenix Suns flat brim as the fifth pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, I found it astonishing looking back at his development over the past two years with the Maryland Terrapins. I’m an undergrad at UMD – I didn’t see this coming.
“I’m so excited, I feel honored to be here,” Len said on NBA TV. “They have a really young team, and I’m excited to play and help the team win.”
The 7´1 center, who reps the mining town of Antratsit, Ukraine, has gone from a finesse big man his freshman year to an aggressive offensive threat as a sophomore on the block, averaging 11.9 points and 7.8 rebounds this season. It’s possible that he can become a centerpiece player for the Suns, seeing that Marcin Gortat is entering the final year of his contract. Len’s college career is a testament to his ability to improve very quickly, but he has yet to get to the level to be that player.
Still, when I think of Len, I no longer envision the wide-eyed 18-year-old that I saw former Tar Heel John Henson dunk on at the Comcast Center in February 2012. That moment symbolized the bruises that he took freshman year, prompting questions of his toughness, questions that he has had to work to shake off.
Len added 30 pounds to his beanpole frame between his two seasons at College Park, with his off-season hustle eventually leading to the new, 255-pound Alex Len we saw this season. The moments that replay in my mind now are the 23-point, 12-rebound performance against Nerlens Noel’s Kentucky in November and the bullying of Mason Plumlee during the Terps’ 83-81 marquee win over Duke in February. These games caught the attention of scouts and coaches.
As a Terp myself, naturally, I wanted to experience the second half of Len’s college career, one that I’m sure would’ve ended with a deep NCAA run and copious individual honors. Instead, it ended with a loss in the NIT semifinal to Iowa and an All-ACC honorable mention.
He can be wildly inconsistent, only dropping four against Boston College one game following his big performance against Duke. Plus, his stress fracture may become a constant problem throughout his career, as it was for Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Yao Ming .
Len’s final season at Maryland showed he was heading in the right direction, but it’s clear that he’s not yet where he needs to be. If he can pick up from where he left off with the Terps and become the 7-foot freak the Suns hope he will be, then more power to him. But another year with the Terps was needed for him to ensure that would happen. There’s only one thing I can say to Alex now: Good luck, dawg.