With Maryland not making 7-1 center Alex Len available for interviews all season, it has been difficult to get a feel for how the freshman from Ukraine is adapting to life in College Park. His on-court performance has alternated between riveting (with Len scoring 14 points and adding eight rebounds and three blocks n his opening game against Albany) and less memorable (barely registering on the stat sheet in some of the Terps’ more physical ACC contests down the stretch).
In the view of college-basketball analyst Mike Gminski, a former standout center at Duke (1977-80) and first-round pick in the 1980 NBA draft, Len has a tremendous up-side and can be expected to take a major step forward heading into his sophomore season at Maryland.
The 6-11 Gminski, an analyst for the ACC Network, got an up-close look at Len during Maryland’s march to the ACC Tournament’s quarterfinals in Atlanta and spoke to Maryland’s coaching staff about their expectations for Len.
In Columbus as part of the broadcast team for NCAA Tournament’s second- and third-round games at Nationwide Arena, Gminksi spoke to Terrapins Insider about Len. The conversation follows:
Q: From the two Maryland games you covered in the ACC Tournament, what’s your impression of Alex Len’s potential?
A: “The key thing with him is that it has been such a cultural shock to come here. I didn’t realize he spent so much of the day trying to learn the language, plus study. So he’s trying to get up to speed on his English--that’s five, six hours a day—then have to deal with schoolwork. And communication in games has been really difficult for him.
“On the practice court, it’s easier. [As a coach], you can take your time and get your point across. But when Mark [Turgeon] is in a game situation, in huddles, in a 20-second time-out or 30-second time out, he’s normally, and rightly so, assuming everybody is understanding what he’s saying. And here is Alex, who is maybe not.”
Q: Despite that challenge, where is Len in terms of his skill as a college player?
A: “I think he’s very talented. I think he’s very athletic. I think the game is really fast for him right now, which is not good. But I think once he gets through this year and has a summer to settle down and get used to his environment, he’ll be better.
“I couldn’t imagine going [to the Ukraine], not knowing the language and having to go school and having to learn the language and having to understand [coaches’ instructions], if you put the situation in reverse. I think once he feels comfortable in his environs, his talent will come out.”
Q: What’s Len’s ceiling as a player?
A: “Is he going to be an NBA all star someday? I don’t know that.
But I know that Mark [Turgeon] really likes his skill sets and what he can do. I think it really is more about just getting comfortable in this country.”
Q: ACC Player of the Year Tyler Zeller won’t be back next season, but the league won’t be without imposing frontcourts. How close is Len, at 7-1 and 225 pounds, to developing the physicality required to take on the ACC’s big men?
A: “He didn’t play the 10 games (because of an NCAA suspension for eligibility issues at the season’s outset), so he kind of had to go from zero to 80 on the on-ramp. The biggest physical improvement usually with big players comes between their first and second year. You get an understanding of what it takes to play in the conference. You’re a little more focused on the weight room and are probably eating better and developing your habits living on your own.
“It will be interesting to see, with him--along with the acclimation and everything else—how that translates. But that summer between the first and second year is typically when big guys improve most.”