September 02, 2011
Since Maryland announced the late addition of 7-foot-1 center Olexiy Len on Monday, there has been breathless speculation regarding the potential impact the mysterious Ukrainian big man can make next season.
One report quoted an anonymous coach who called Len "a lottery pick" and "the best recruit in America." Another raved about the "off the charts" athleticism displayed by Len at the U-18 European Championships last year.
In an effort to gauge whether the hype for Len is legitimate or not, Yahoo! Sports reached out to an Eastern Conference front office executive who is familiar with the Ukrainian 7-footer's game. The executive described Len as an unconventional center with impressive athleticism and leaping ability, but when asked about the idea of him as a sure-fire lottery pick, he bluntly responded, "Hell no."
"He's an athlete, a big-time athlete," the executive said. "Think of Tyson Chandler when he was young, that kind of skinny, athletic body. He'll do some crazy stuff: Reverse dunking, behind the back dribbling. He has athletic ability that you don't see [from a] Euro Ukrainian, who are usually blessed with a lack of verticality. I don't know that he's a really good basketball player yet, but he's a pogo-stick right now. Down the road, he has a chance to be very good."
If indeed Maryland has added a big man who's still very raw but has the potential to play at an all-conference level in a couple years, that should qualify as mostly good news for the Terrapins.
Yes, Len may not solve all of Maryland's frontcourt woes caused by the early departure of Jordan Williams this past spring, but the Terrapins weren't likely to contend in the ACC this season anyway. Instead, Len will receive ample playing time this winter in hopes that he'll be an impact big man in a year or two when Maryland's young backcourt has matured and coach Mark Turgeon's first recruiting classes have arrived.
Len starred for the Ukraine national team at the U-18 European Championships last year, averaging 16 points, 11.4 rebounds and 4.3 blocks during the tournament. He said in a release issued by Maryland earlier this week that his first glimpse of the school's basketball program was the Greivis Vasquez-led victory over Duke in 2010 that helped the Terrapins win a share of the ACC title.
"I could not believe the atmosphere — 18,000 people, excitement and fans running onto the floor after the victory," Len said. "It was unbelievable.
"Coach Turgeon brings a new start to Maryland. For me, this is a brand new beginning as well. So, we are in it together. Coach shared with me his vision for the team, and how he could see me fitting in to his system. It felt good, like the right place for me to be. I can see myself coming in and contributing right away and helping our team compete in a great league. I'm extremely excited to be a Terp."