Alex Len has already made one giant basketball leap. With the appreciable on and off court success, the 7-foot-1 Ukrainian center and Maryland basketball coach Mark Turgeon believe it's time for another.
Len officially confirmed his intention to forgo his final two seasons of eligibility and enter the NBA Draft on Tuesday afternoon during a press conference held inside the Comcast Center.
"It just seems like yesterday when he walked in our office," Turgeon said of his now sophomore center who arrived on the College Park campus during the summer of 2011. "This 7-foot skinny kid walks in, knows very little English. Less than two years later he's going to put his name in the draft and most likely be a lottery pick - I think top 10 pick before it's all said and done."
Demonstrating his cultural progression, Len read his opening statement in English, a feat not possible when he first joined the program.
"My family and I have been thinking about this for some time now," Len said. "With Coach Turgeon we came to the decision, and we think this is going to be a great decision for me, and my career."
With Len's family not familiar with the NBA Draft process, Turgeon joked that there was extra "pressure" on him to provide guidance during the should-he-stay or should-he-go process. Turgeon went through a similar situation at Texas A&M when sophomore center and now Los Angeles Clippers starter DeAndre Jordan turned pro.
"I've been lucky enough to coach a few NBA players and you know when a guy is a pro. Alex has been a pro every day since he's gotten here," said Turgeon, speaking in purely talent and work ethic terms.
Sitting at a table next to his sophomore center, Turgeon displayed two animal glass figurines given to him by Len's mother, Juliya, when her son committed to the program, one noticeably larger than the other.
"She said 'I'm giving you Alex as a baby. When he leaves here I want him to be a man," said Turgeon, explaining the symbolism behind the gift-giving gesture.
"He's grown up a lot," Turgeon continued. "In two years I've never seen a kid learn the language, learn the game - the European game is a lot different than ours. Just the way he progressed, I don't know if I've been around a player who has improved as much as Alex."
Gifted with acrobatic athleticism, Len improved statistically across the board during the 2012-13 season. After averaging six points as a freshman, he tallied 11.9 points a gamer as a sophomore along with a team-high 7.8 rebounds. Len's 78 blocks led the ACC.
"When I came here two years ago, I improved so much," Len said. "I think it's not going to be as hard to make this step to the NBA. I'm just excited to work."
Various NBA Draft projections concur with Turgeon lottery pick assumption if not the top-10 take. DraftExpress.com ranks Len as the 11th top prospect in the projected 2013 class while others have him entrenched inside the top-10.
"The reason the NBA is so intrigued and I know he is going to be a great pro is that he is only 19," Turgeon said. "I can’t imagine where he is going to be when he is 23.”
Consistency lacked in games and during stretches of the season, though Len certainly had his starry moments. Turgeon credited Len's interior presence with Maryland's field goal percentage defense ranking among the nation's best.
Len's season highlight came in the opener when he dunked his way to 23 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks against Kentucky's heralded freshman big man Nerlens Noel. Many project Noel as the No.1 overall pick in the 2013 draft.
"I think he can be the No. 1 pick," Turgeon said of Len. "They’re talking about the other guy being No. 1, and you guys saw the same game I saw when we played them earlier in the year. This kid’s going to be special.”
Because of that attention-getting performance and his sizeable skill set, Len commanded defense's primary attention seemingly every trip down the court. Asked if he looked forward to not being double and triple teamed in the post on the next level, a grinning Len offered a simple answer. "Exactly."
While he put on 30 pounds between his freshman and sophomore season, Len's slender frame needs added bulk and strength to compete against the professional playing adults on the pro level. However, the current college game is a more physical/less skilled brand of basketball compared to the NBA, which is another reason why Turgeon believes Len's chances for success are high.
"Alex really can shoot it," Turgeon said of the 255-pounder. "That's a skill he's going to show on the next level that he didn't show in college. I think the NBA game will suit him better than the college game."
Considering Len's noticeable improvement, such thinking does not seem like a giant leap.