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Terps’ Alex Len developing on, off court
Promising offseason heightens expectations for center
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.
“I think I’ve prepared well, but we will see in the first game against Kentucky,” Len said.
“He’s further along,” Turgeon said. “There’s no doubt about it. I think our players know to throw him the ball from the summer. He’s a weapon, and they know Alex will pass it if he’s being double teamed. He had much more game than he was able to show last year, and I think you’ll be able to see his game. We could see parts of it in practice, but he has so much more game in him that we’ll bring out.”
Notes: Turgeon said junior point guard Pe’Shon Howard “looks great” seven months removed from reconstructive knee surgery and will try some live work during workout sessions later this week. Howard is expected to be ready to work at full-speed when practice begins next month. …
• The Terps announced their annual Maryland Madness event will begin at 7 p.m. on Oct. 12, with doors opening at Comcast Center at 6 p.m. The men’s basketball team is scheduled to be introduced around 7:45 p.m. Admission is free.
• With Sam Cassell Jr.’s ineligibility, Auslander was placed back on scholarship. Cassell will attend Chipola Junior College, according to several published reports.
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About the Author
Patrick Stevens has covered Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic college sports for more than a decade. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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