Alex Len only spent two seasons at Maryland but his ties to College Park remain strong. With the Phoenix Suns in town for the only time this season, Len made the most of his time in the area.
Len went to Comcast Center on Tuesday to watch his girlfriend, Essence Townsend, and the Maryland women defeat Texas in the second round of the NCAA tournament. He also bought a suite for friends to watch him make his NBA debut at Verizon Center a day later. Len’s college coach, Mark Turgeon, and some of his former teammates were in attendance as the 7-foot center recorded a blocked shot and a rebound in roughly four minutes of the Suns’ 99-93 win over the Wizards.
“It’s like I’m back home, even though I’m not from here,” Len said before Wednesday’s game.
The time in his adopted home provided a brief reprieve from his concerns about his native Ukraine, where the unrest over the Russian annex of Crimea forced Len to move his grandparents out to live with him in Phoenix. While trying to get his NBA career going, Len is also grappling with trying to make sense of the situation.
“It’s crazy. The last two months have been crazy over there,” Len said of Ukraine. “I watch Russian news, I watch American news and Ukrainian news and everybody say different things, so I don’t really know what’s going on. I mean, I’m not a politician but all I want, is I hope nobody gets hurt and praying for peace.”
The dispute over the Crimean peninsula personally affects Len, who has relatives in the Russian-occupied region. “I used to go there every summer, now I’ve got to get a visa to go see my family,” Len said.
Len had initially planned on returning to Ukraine after the season but he has been forced to change his plans.
“Now I’m probably going to stay in America and just work with coaches and get better,” Len said.
The fifth overall pick in the NBA draft, Len has only played in 38 games, averaging 2.2 points and 2.4 rebounds in just below nine minutes per game. Len underwent surgery on both ankles last summer and missed 28 of the first 32 games, but he has been upbeat despite a season in which he has been used sparingly behind Miles Plumlee and Channing Frye.
“It’s great,” Len said. “This year is so much fun because obviously, nobody expected us to be that good and we’re playing great. Guys get along with each other. It definitely helps a lot, show everybody that we have so many guys nobody wanted before the season on the team. After this season, everybody is going to look at us differently, so it’s been a lot of fun.”