- The Washington Times - Monday, February 6, 2012

Maryland’s big freshman is showing signs of a moderate comeback.

Of the many indicators of progress in the Terrapins’ losses to Miami and North Carolina last week, perhaps none was as welcome as evidence Alex Len is finally re-asserting himself after a sluggish stretch shortly after ACC play commenced.

Len had 23 points, 16 rebounds and eight blocks in the two setbacks. In the previous six games, the Ukrainian had 13 points, 16 rebounds and 10 blocks.

“He’s learning the physicality of the game a little bit, and I know he struggled with that earlier,” forward Ashton Pankey said. “He’s still struggling with the goaltending calls. He’s still getting Americanized. He’s getting the hang of it, and it’s good he’s finally getting back into his rhythm.”

Indeed, goaltending calls remain an issue for the 7-foot-1 center, though a lack of assertiveness appears to be fading as the Terps (13-9, 3-5 ACC) enter Tuesday’s game at Clemson (11-11, 3-5).

Len looked demonstrably more comfortable in the 90-86 double overtime loss at Miami on Wednesday. The Terps essentially fed him minutes out of necessity, and both injury and foul issues left the Hurricanes incapable of dealing with his size in the paint.

North Carolina wasn’t so limited in its 83-74 victory Saturday, but Len still managed to fluster John Henson and Tyler Zeller at times. His 12-point outing was his most productive on offense since the Terps’ conference opener Jan. 8 at N.C. State.

Maryland has not granted interview requests for Len since he arrived on campus in August.

Coach Mark Turgeon said Len’s practices have improved, and the staff has done extra work with him. But the greatest change stemmed from removing the complexity of what the Terps asked of Len.

It’s a bit of a change from when Len first became eligible from an NCAA-mandated 10-game suspension in December. Turgeon hoped to run Maryland’s offense through the 225-pounder, though opponents eventually adjusted to his skill set and helped send him into a slump.

“Sometimes when he catches the ball, he looks like the whole world’s moving too fast for him,” Turgeon said. “We’ve tried to simplify that. I think it’s helped a bit. He made a jump shot the other day and got confident, and when they crowded him he drove it. He’s got all the tools. It’s just relaxing and getting it done.”

While increased familiarity might have worked against Len after his first four games — when he averaged 13.5 points and 8.8 rebounds — it is arguably helping him now. Some of it might be Len growing accustomed to the pace and grind of conference play.

Yet Turgeon observed a more subtle effect: officiating. Len’s style is no longer unknown to referees, and, “You have to get used to reffing guys like that,” Turgeon said. “I think the word’s starting to get around, ‘Hey, that kid is a good shot-blocker, and he’s got good timing.’ People are getting used to reffing him, and that’s helping him.”

In turn, Maryland’s inconsistent interior is bolstered a bit with Len returning to his earlier form.

“It’s a plus for us, having that type of size and that type of talent,” guard Sean Mosley said. “I think he’s starting to be more aggressive at both ends of the court. I think that’s helping him and helping us a lot. For us, we don’t really have a lot of shot blockers like that. Him coming from the weak side and getting some blocks for us and scoring really helps us.”

Notes: Mosley is one point shy of becoming the eighth player in Maryland history with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists and 120 steals. … Clemson coach Brad Brownell told reporters forward Milton Jennings would dress and play Tuesday. Jennings, who is averaging 8.9 points and 5.4 rebounds, was suspended the past two games.

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