Characterizing the NCAA’s ruling regarding Alex Len’s eligibility as “more than fair,” Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon said Thursday that university officials probably wouldn’t appeal the suspension that will sideline the 7-foot-1 center for the first 10 games of the season.
Turgeon wouldn’t specify how Len ran afoul of the NCAA’s rules on amateurism other than to say that his situation was unique.
Maryland fans will get a look at Len on Friday at Comcast Center, where Turgeon’s short-handed Terps take on NAIA power Northwood (Fla.), which is coached by veteran Rollie Massimino, who led Villanova to the 1985 NCAA championship. Because it’s an exhibition rather than a regular season game, Len is free to compete. His suspension will start with the Nov. 13 season opener against UNC Wilmington and will be completed in time for the Dec. 28 game against Albany.
Turgeon described a joyful scene Wednesday afternoon at Comcast Center, where Len received the news he was cleared to practice with the Terps roughly five minutes before the workout began.
The Ukraine native was so excited to join his teammates, having been barred from practice since Oct. 15 while the NCAA verified his amateur status, that he raced onto the court before being taped by the trainer, tears in his eyes, and was engulfed in a group hug.
“It was really hard for him,” Turgeon said of the waiting. “That’s why all the tears and emotions came out. . . . I said, ‘Give him a ball!’ so he’d quit crying. ‘I’m going to start crying!’ ”
It has been an emotional preseason for the Terps, who lost their starting point guard, Pe’Shon Howard, last week to a broken foot. Turgeon said Thursday that a recent MRI suggested Howard will miss 12 weeks, the maximum initially forecast. That would delay his return until the Jan. 25 game against Duke, five games into the ACC season.
In Howard’s absence, sophomore Terrell Stoglin has taken over point-guard duties and gotten an earful from Turgeon, himself a former point guard.
“He’s trying, but I’m all over him,” Turgeon said of Stoglin, who is naturally more of a shooter than ballhandler. “It’s no fun for him.”
As for Len’s progression, Turgeon said he felt the center learned a good bit from watching practice these last three weeks and had become physically stronger in the process.
“The only thing he does wrong is something we do new, and he doesn’t understand what the heck I’m saying,” Turgeon said of Len, whose English is limited.
Turgeon said Len has good timing as a shot blocker, surprising ease running the floor and is a strong presence under the basket. But he made a point of tempering expectations about Len’s impact on the eve of Friday’s first scrimmage.
“He is not the savior,” Turgeon said. “He’s not a hero. Are we better with Alex? Yes, we’re deeper. It gives us eight scholarship players, so we’re automatically better. But the physicality of the game and the speed of the game, he has got to get used to.”