Maryland coach Mark Turgeon couldn't believe the progress he saw in the time he spent with Terrapins center Alex Len.
“He's grown up a lot,” Turgeon said when Len declared for this year's NBA Draft in mid-April. “In two years, I've never seen a kid learn the language, learn the game — the European game is a lot different than ours. Just the way he progressed, I don't know if I've been around a player who has improved as much as Alex.”
Turns out, Turgeon wasn't alone in what he witnessed.
Shortly after declaring for the draft, Len began to climb numerous mock draft boards. Some suggested Len might be taken before Kentucky center Nerlens Noel, who has since become the overwhelming choice as the potential No. 1 pick.
In a season-opening game last Nov. 9 against Kentucky at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Len had 23 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots facing Noel.
“I think he (Len) can be the No. 1 pick,” Turgeon said. “They're talking about the other guy (Noel) being No. 1, and you guys saw the same game I saw when we played them (Kentucky). ... This kid's going to be special.”
Len is now slated to go between Nos. 4-10 on the board, but that status could slip a bit.
In mid-May, Len had surgery to stabilize a stress fracture in his left ankle and will require 4-6 months of recovery time.
As a result, Len will have missed individual workouts, the draft combine, summer league and probably part of training camp, which would put him considerably behind schedule as he enters the league.
Born in the Ukraine, Len will turn 20 years old next Sunday.
The 7-foot-1, 255-pounder is one of eight 7-footers projected to be drafted in the first round (along with two players at 6-foot-11).
Len's collegiate career started slowly when he was suspended the first 10 games by the NCAA because of eligibility issues concerning his professional background with a former club in his home country. He was inconsistent as a freshman and bothered by an ankle injury midway through the season, but showed promise at times while facing some talented centers in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Most intriguing about Len is his impressive athleticism for a player his size. He also offers a 7-foot-3½ wingspan and has added 30 pounds since coming to America.
Though his play has been inconsistent at times, Len's remarkable agility and untapped potential are what has captured the attention of NBA scouts. In other words, he certainly looks the part.
12 for the 12th pick
As part of the James Harden trade with Houston last October, the Thunder obtained the No. 12 overall selection in the June 27 NBA Draft via Toronto. Leading up to the draft, we'll take a look at 12 potential candidates the Thunder might consider taking with that No. 12 pick. Today: Maryland center Alex Len.