Yet the mysteries still remain, about who Alex Len is and what he still can become. There are pre-draft whispers that the Cleveland Cavaliers will consider selecting him first overall despite a stress fracture in his left ankle that will keep him out until November. Others have dubbed him a probable bust, another European big man oozing potential but destined for the rejection pile of misfit imports. Still more projections reside somewhere in the middle.
“I think, maybe 10 years from now, I’ll be the best player out of this draft,” Len told reporters at last month’s NBA draft combine in Chicago.
“Alex is going to be a great pro,” Turgeon said. “No doubt in my mind.”
Wrote ESPN analyst Dave Telep, “I’m not sure anyone really knows who Len truly is.”
She answers the door with a smile, cartoon teddy bears dancing on the white apron knotted around her waist. Alex Len’s mother speaks almost no English, even less than her son knew when she first sent him more than 5,000 miles away from home. Right now, though, it’s clear what she’s asking.
Come in. Sit down. Eat.
Juliya Len scurries into the kitchen of the Hyattsville apartment her son shares with Townsend, fetching a plate of homemade blintzes and wine hand-pressed by Alex’s grandfather.
Juliya is tall and slender like her son, an energetic redhead with big brown eyes that illuminate when she smiles, which is pretty much whenever someone mentions Alex. A teakettle whistles. She lifts it from the stovetop and carries it over to the table, four mugs in hand. Soon, she will disappear again, this time into the back bedroom where Alex’s awards sit on the dresser, and return clutching a stack of old photographs.
Flipping through the pictures, Juliya still sees the same boy who left home seven years ago, except now sitting before her is the man he became. Here’s young Alex at Christmas, candy piled before him. Here’s teenage Alex at a 15-and-under national tournament, holding his first trophy, awarded to the best center. Here’s Alex now, devouring the blintzes, her name tattooed onto his left wrist. “Oh my god,” he whispers, embarrassed at the barely recognizable beanpole wearing a Chicago Bulls jersey in his grandparents’ garden.
Today, it’s Alex’s black Maryland jersey that hangs on his sister’s wall back home. Before long, his NBA uniform will make its way overseas, into the Antratsit homes of children hoping to become the next Alex Len.
No one knows whether Len, the player, will disappoint, flourish or something in between. He already has assimilated into American culture and mastered a new language and will soon relocate again, this time bringing his mother along to ease the burden of another transition. But one goal remains elusive: He hasn’t figured out how, and he doesn’t know when, but he knows someday soon he’ll come back home.