With three open evaluation periods ahead this month and as many recruits already orally committed for its class of 2014, the Maryland basketball team finds itself in a luxurious position. Coach Mark Turgeon and his staff can focus exclusively on filling in the one open slot for its class, before turning the attention to 2015.
Melo Trimble, Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens, all four-star sharpshooters, have boosted the Terrapins to ESPN.com’s fourth-ranked class of 2014. Given the schools ahead of them — North Carolina has three five-stars on board, Ohio State has two and Louisville has one and two four-stars — it’s unlikely Maryland will finish any higher, but a top-10 opportunity is well within reason. The back court sewn up, this involves rounding out the class with a big man.
The options are legion and widespread, from Massachusetts center Goodluck Okonoboh to Georgia center Trayvon Reed. Local power forwards like Obi Enechionyia (St. James), Martin Geben (St. Maria Goretti) and Chinanu Onuaku (Riverdale Baptist) also remain in play.
The Terps fully expect to snag one of these, tossing some size and bulk into the mix, but after last week they now have an added recruiting tool: Alex Len.
Drafted fifth overall by the Phoenix Suns on Thursday, Len can be presented as a shining example of Maryland’s player developmental capabilities, of how Turgeon and company turned a raw import into a lottery pick.
“Yeah, it definitely can [help],” Turgeon said at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, hours after attending his first NBA draft. “You hope so. I have two players that I’ve coached in the NBA and they were centers. [Los Angeles Clippers'] DeAndre Jordan and Alex Len. That should help us recruit.”
Turgeon has coached others — Donald Sloan went undrafted and bounced around between several teams, while Khris Middleton, who remained at Texas A&M after Turgeon left for Maryland, was drafted by Detroit in 2012 — but Len marks his greatest achievement yet.
Yes, Len’s numbers improved between his two seasons in College Park, but more noticeable was his weight gain and cultural adaptation, developing from a lean beanpole without any English into a bulky, nearly fluent 270-pounder whom the Suns brass unanimously ranked first on their draft boards.
Of course, future big men likely won’t have to deal with the language barrier, but the Maryland coaches will certainly pitch them on the opportunity to join a program that just produced a top-five pick, regardless of his actual, statistical success in college. InsideMDSports recently wrote about Thon Maker, ranked second overall by 247sports.com’s class of 2016 rankings, and his guardian Edward Smith raved over Len’s body transformation.
“To get it done so quickly, in two years, to have a kid recruited and drafted in the top five in two years, that’s pretty good,” Turgeon said. “You’d like to think it’s going to help us with other players. Kids want to be in the pros, they want to play in the NBA, and you can show them you get guys there.”
As for future picks, NBA teams kept routine tabs on several Maryland players last season. On one occasion, at Florida State, a scout rotated between note files on Jake Layman, Nick Faust and Dez Wells. Ranked 22nd among NCAA sophomores by DraftExpress, Wells seems the most likely candidate to jump to the NBA next season, provided he can develop into a consistent outside shooter and lock-down perimeter defender. His body control and strength are already elite.
And if Turgeon is right, Len’s draft status will mean far more than simply a multi-million-dollar contract for the 7-feet-1 center. It will help the program he left behind.
“We’ve had a few guys drafted, but this is our first and hopefully the start of many to come down the road,” Turgeon said. “Yeah I think Alex knows the significance of what happened.”