- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2012

There was plenty for center Alex Len to adjust to after coming to Maryland in the summer of 2011.

American basketball was more physical. He initially did not receive clearance to play from the NCAA. There was a seven-hour time difference between here and his native Ukraine.

And then there was the obvious: communication.

“The first three months was the hardest because I didn’t know the language — I knew a little bit, but it wasn’t good enough to communicate with teammates,” Len said Tuesday. “I think after the first three months, I started adjusted to the culture, to people and food.”

It’s an ongoing process for the 7-foot-2 Len, whose development on the floor coupled with his increased comfort off it will be one of the Terrapins’ primary storylines when the season opens Nov. 9 against Kentucky at Barclays Center in New York.

Len, who averaged 6.0 points and 5.4 rebounds in 22 games a year ago, spoke with reporters yesterday for the first time since his arrival in College Park. Much has changed since then.

One noticeable difference is Len’s physique. Content to function primarily as a finesse player as a freshman, Len weighed in at 248 pounds within the last week and could emerge as a more powerful low-post force for the Terps, who are coming off a 17-15 season.

“Our whole thing when the season ended was ‘Let’s make Alex tougher,’” coach Mark Turgeon said. “When he says he was grinding, he was grinding in the weight room, conditioning. We do a lot of conditioning, and he’s still been able to put on 30 pounds.”

There also is some continuity for Len, who found himself the subject of an NCAA eligibility probe after he signed with Maryland in August 2011. He participated in preseason workouts, starting a temporary eligibility clock that ran out just as practice was about to begin.

That left Len sidelined as he awaited word from the NCAA, which eventually settled on a 10-game suspension.

“The hardest part was not being able to practice,” Len said. “Just sitting and watching guys have fun on the court was the hardest part for me. The first game against Albany, it was an unbelievable feeling to get on the court. There was a huge crowd. It was amazing.”

Added forward John Auslander, Len’s roommate: “It was really tough for him. You could tell he just wanted to be out there and be with the guys. It was killing him not to practice. Any chance he got, he was on the court working out.”

That could pay dividends in Len’s sophomore season. Maryland’s frontcourt is bolstered, with freshmen Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell joining Len and senior James Padgett to form a solid projected rotation. Auslander said Len is more assertive and not in a rush when he gets into the post.

There were times a season ago Len would struggled to finish layups, limiting his offensive output. After opening his career with four straight double-digit scoring outings, he had only two the rest of the season and none in his final nine games.

A promising offseason could be the first step in achieving greater consistency.

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