Ever seen a seven-foot-one-inch kid do a cartwheel, then dunk a basketball? Until a few days ago, neither had I.
Check out the first four seconds of this video.
That’s Alex Len, the 7-1 Ukrainian-born center who is eligible to play for Maryland on Wednesday against Albany, after serving a 10-game NCAA suspension for non-compliance with amateurism guidelines.
Despite showing some athleticism and, most obviously, size at Maryland’s Midnight Madness, a lot of questions still remain about Len, what his immediate impact may be, and if that impact will help steer the ship for the Terrapins (7-3), as they move toward ACC play.
Head coach Mark Turgeon has made it clear that Len is not the silver bullet that will fix a team that was picked to finish 9th in the ACC in the preseason, has yet to win by double digits, and only averages 67 points per game.
And the way he speaks about Len has matched that philosophy. It’s level-headed and bland, yet optimistic.
“He gets rebounds over our guys in practice and finishes just because of his enormous size and length,” Turgeon told the Washington Times. “I think he has a good feel for the game. What we’ll try to do is run our offense through him. Most of our offense runs through Terrell [Stoglin]. We can run it through Alex and Terrell [Stoglin] because he can score, and he’s a good passer and has a good feel for the game.”
Len, along with the return of sophomore guard Pe’Shon Howard from injury, provide support in the two biggest categories the Terrapins lacked: depth in the frontcourt and a true point guard.
With 6-6 freshman Nick Faust (who had little experience at point guard, in his career) taking on some duties to fill in for Howard, along with the team’s big-time scorer Terrell Stoglin, Maryland mustered under 10 assists per game as a team, leading to an underachieving offense that relied far too heavily on Stoglin for production.
In Howard’s return to the lineup last Friday against Radford, the Terps had 14 assists, getting three players into double figures, but still only scoring 65 points, in a five-point win.
But the most importance of Howard’s return is in the positive ripple effect that he creates, not necessarily his immediate personal impact.
Stoglin is now able to play his natural position, shooting guard, while Faust can slide down to the shooting guard, as well, or even small forward. In combination with the size Len could bring to the starting lineup, that now allows for consistent bigs off the bench, which gives Turgeon more flexibility down low.
It’s a process.
Even so, it will be difficult for the Terps to make noise in the ACC. The dominance of North Carolina and Duke at the top, and teams in the middle of the pack like Virginia and NC State on the upswing, this won’t be Maryland’s year.
But Turgeon has made in-roads on the recruiting trail, scoring signatures from two top 100 prospects in big man Shaq Cleare and swingman Jake Layman, along with shooting guard Seth Allen.
Turgeon is building and Howard and Len are solid pieces of that, but the Terps still have to find their footing in the ACC in the post-Gary Williams era.