- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The unknowns surrounding Maryland’s international man of mystery are about to be answered.

At least to some extent.

Freshman center Alex Len will make his debut Wednesday when the Terrapins (7-3) play host to Albany (7-5), finally putting an end to months of anticipation about the 7-foot-1 Ukrainian.

It existed more than two months ago when Maryland was on the precipice of starting practice. Len signed with Maryland in August and six weeks later still was in NCAA clearinghouse purgatory. Even then, the eagerness to figure out just who he is and what he will provide Maryland was building.

“I like the fact that he’s a mystery,” guard Pe’Shon Howard said in October. “When we come in and everyone can finally see him play, they’ll be happy with the mystery.”

It just took a little longer than expected. Len finally was granted clearance by the NCAA in November with the caveat of sitting out 10 games in accordance with the organization’s amateurism guidelines.

And so the time to learn something about Len, for whom Maryland has declined all interview requests since he arrived in College Park, is here. The first glimpse of him was doing a cartwheel during introductions at Maryland’s midnight madness celebration. The second was a 16-minute stint in a Nov. 4 exhibition game after practicing for only two days.

Neither offered a substantive look at precisely what the Terps would get, beyond the obvious — a large man who will bolster Maryland’s frontcourt merely through his presence. Freshman forward Ashton Pankey said Friday Len is athletic for his size and can run the floor well, which will afford Maryland the chance to push the tempo more than it has over the first third of the season.

“He gets rebounds over our guys in practice and finishes just because of his enormous size and length,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “I think he has a good feel for the game. What we’ll try to do is run our offense through him. Most of our offense runs through Terrell [Stoglin]. We can run it through Alex and Terrell because he can score, and he’s a good passer and has a good feel for the game.”

Turgeon repeatedly insisted before the season Len shouldn’t be viewed as a savior for the Terps, who have avoided an embarrassing loss but also don’t own a victory by double digits this season. Maryland played its first nine games without Howard (broken foot), who returned to play 32 minutes in Friday’s defeat of Radford.

While Turgeon said he is “99 percent sure” Howard will start against Albany, it is uncertain how soon Len will nudge his way into a starting role. It might not be long, especially with conference games — and a plethora of opponents with substantial size in the paint — awaiting the Terps.

“It’s going to be a process,” Turgeon said. “Some games, he’s going to be better than others. Some games are going to suit him better than others. Knowing what I know about the league and the teams I’ve seen, he’s going to fit in and hold his own. He’s still going to be an 18-year-old kid, but I think you’ll see tremendous improvement as the year goes forward.”

The initial impact, though, will be a redistribution of frontcourt roles. Pankey, who has played the five to date, will see some time at power forward. The playing time allocated to Pankey, junior James Padgett and senior Berend Weijs likely will fluctuate as Turgeon settles on how to parcel out minutes to his big men.

That, like Len’s impact on this year’s team, remains a mystery — just not for much longer.

“I’ll just let you guys watch and see,” Howard said Friday. “That’s all I can say. You can’t really put into words the difference he’ll make. I think you guys will really be impressed by him and by the team and the difference he makes.”

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