By Adam Zagoria of ZagsBlog
Mark Turgeon’s near-term prospects as the head coach at Maryland — as well as the order of the 2012 NBA Draft — could hang on what the NCAA decides about a 7-foot-1, 225-pound man from the Ukraine.
Olexiy “Alex” Len enrolled at Maryland in August and then made an impressive 10-minute appearance during Maryland’s March Madness Oct. 14.
But at midnight that night, his 45-day window for practicing with the team expired and he is now waiting for the NCAA to rule on his eligibility to play this season for the Terrapins.
“With Alex Len, the NCAA continues to work with the university but no decision has been reached,” NCAA spokesman Chris Radford said Friday by email. “The primary issue relates to his amateurism certification.”
The issue with Les is how much money he received while playing overseas. Len’s case is similar to that of former Kentucky player Enes Kanter, but Maryland hopes the NCAA rules differently.
A native of Turkey, the 6-foot-11 Kanter participated in preseason action for the Wildcats last season but was then ruled ineligible for the season when the NCAA student-athlete reinstatement staff decided he had received benefits above his actual and necessary expenses while playing for a club basketball team in Turkey.
Despite not playing a single game for Kentucky last season, Kanter was chosen with the No. 3 pick in the NBA Draft by the Utah Jazz.
Len won’t go that high, but Jonathan Givony, who runs DraftExpress.com, believes he has a pro future.
“He’s definitely a prospect NBA scouts will want to evaluate,” Givony said, “but until he steps on the court, it’s all speculation. The best thing is just to wait and see.”
Len was a standout player for the Ukraine national team at the U-18 European Championships in 2010. He averaged 16.0 points, 11.4 rebounds and 4.3 blocks in nine games in the tournament. He nearly posted a triple-double in a game against Germany with 20 points, 17 rebounds and nine blocks.
ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla watched Len throughout that tournament and saw him hold his own against Jonas Valanciunas, who became the No. 5 pick in the 2011 Draft.
“If I was a college coach two summers ago I would’ve been salivating to get a kid like that [Len] in my program, but he’s certainly not a ready-made, instant first-round pick by any stretch,” Fraschilla said in a phone interview.
Comparisons to Kanter are unfair, Fraschilla said.
Kanter had a breakout performance at the Nike Hoop Summit in April 2010, when he was the dominant player on a court with Jared Sullinger, Harrison Barnes, Perry Jones and Terrence Jones — all of whom are likely to be lottery picks in the next Draft (whenever that is).
But Len is not as physically imposing.
“Enes was a far more physically developed player at the same age,” Fraschilla said. “Alex is an agile 7-foot player with some perimeter skills who has to get stronger to be a very, very good college player.
“He would be a Top 50 recruit if he were coming out this year, but physically he wouldn’t be ready to be a dominant ACC player.”
Fraschilla said Maryland would be the perfect situation for Len. Turgeon’s team is down to seven scholarship players after former Oak Hill guard Pe’Shon Howard broke his foot.
“He would’ve been perfect for Maryland this year because he would’ve had to play,” Fraschilla said. “He would’ve gotten beaten around in the ACC but would’ve really developed because Mark would’ve had no choice but to play him.
“If he went to Kentucky he might be lucky to play 12-14 minutes a game.”
If the NCAA rules him ineligible, Len could opt to return to Europe and play professionally.
“The best thing that could happen to the kid is if he does sit out then he gets to practice this year and learn how to play,” Fraschilla said. “His development is going to be stunted by the fact that he can’t practice all year.”
By contrast, if he is cleared to play and has an average to above-average season against the John Hensons, Tyler Zellers and Mason Plumlees of the world, he could help his draft stock tremendously down the road.
“He’s not really developed, but he definitely has potential because he has size and agility and can actually play on the perimeter some,” Fraschilla said.
Now the Terps, and college basketball fans everywhere, must wait and see where Len plays next.
(Photo courtesy Washington Post)
Adam Zagoria of Zags Blog covers the future stars of the NBA for SheridanHoops.com. His column appears every Saturday.