Maryland’s seven-foot Ukranian Alex Len is a kid whose name you’ll probably see pop-up on some breakout players lists heading into the 2012-2013 season.
There are a number of reasons for that. First and foremost, Len has apparently put on 30 pounds of muscle while managing to keep his conditioning up, which was the most important part of his development. Calling him a twig last season would have been an insult to twigs worldwide. He’ll need that mass to handle the physicality in the paint of high-major college basketball.
He’s also had a year to adjust to the American basketball, which is an under-appreciated aspect of the adjustment that European players have to make when they come stateside. It’s not just the style of play, either; there are differences between FIBA rules and NCAA rules. All that comes before you factor in the fact that Len had to sit out the first ten games of the season due to eligibility issues involving his time with a club team back home. Hopping on a team as a freshman in a new country midway through the season is not an easy task.
Between that and the culture shock that comes with living in College Park, a short drive on the parking lot known as 495 away from our nation’s capital, and I think we can all understand that Len had to adjust to more than just basketball.
But more than anything, Len needed to learn how to effectively communicate.
“The first three months was the hardest because I didn’t know the language — I knew a little bit, but it wasn’t good enough to communicate with teammates,” Len told Patrick Stevens of the Washington Times. “I think after the first three months, I started adjusted to the culture, to people and food.”
Sometimes we take for granted just how difficult it is to assimilate into a different culture. Len uprooted his life and moved to a completely different continent to chase a dream of being a basketball player. Just because it’s something that he wanted to do doesn’t mean that it’s something that will be easy.
Imagine if the tables were turned? How long would it take you to feel comfortable if you moved to the Ukraine? How long would it take you to learn the language?
With a season under his belt and some help in the front court thanks to a couple of talented recruits, Len might just be ready for a big year for the Terps.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.