Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NEW YORK — Alex Len’s draft stock is on the rise after his performance Friday night against Kentucky.
The 7-foot-1 sophomore center from the Ukraine finished with career- and game-bests of 23 points, 12 rebounds and 4 blocks in Maryland’s 72-69 loss to defending national champion Kentucky at the Barclays Center.
Len outplayed Kentucky’s highly acclaimed freshmen big man duo of Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein, who combined for 12 points, 15 rebounds and 7 blocks.
“Len is terrific,” raved one NBA Director of Scouting.
“Len is a lottery pick,” a longtime NBA scout told SNY.tv after the game. “Noel and Cauley-Stein are great young prospects with a lot to learn.”
The scout added: “Len has improved so much from last season when he did not look like an NBA player and his production was very pedestrian. Now he is Top 10 material.”
Just ask NBA Draft guru Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com.
Entering the Kentucky game, Givony had Len at No. 13 on his 2013 Mock Draft.
“We knew he was a very good prospect based on what he showed his freshman season, but [on Friday] he told the entire country that he’s more than that,” Givony told SNY.tv. “He’s a player. With his size, length and mobility, you have to start thinking about him as a Top-10 pick…but only if he keeps producing all season of course.”
Len struggled early with his jump shot against Kentucky, but later showed he could step out to 15 feet and hit a feathery jumper.
He was agile, aggressive and tough near the basket, finishing 10-for-18 from the floor in 32 minutes.
“I didn’t think about myself,” Len said. “I just played for my team. I don’t care how many points I scored or how many rebounds I got because wins are what matter…It was special to play against Nerlens. He is one of the best big men in the country and it was great to play against him.”
Noel is No. 2 on the Draft Expess mock, behind UCLA wing Shabazz Muhammad, who was not cleared by the NCAA and is out indefinitely facing an investigation into his recruitment.
Len, meantime, is on the rise after an offseason in which bulked up and added 30 pounds of muscle.
“I feel much more comfortable,” Len said. “I got a little bit stronger over the summer and I worked really hard to put on some weight and it helped me.”
A year ago, Len averaged 6.0 points and 5.4 rebounds, but he could be in for giant strides this season
“He was a huge weapon for us tonight,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “That’s the most he’s played, 32 minutes. He played better tongiht than at any time last year.
“I was proud of Alex because last year away from home on the big stage sometimes he wasn’t as good.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari, who sent six players to the NBA Draft last season, including the No. 1 and 2 picks, added this endorsement.
“Alex was a beast,” he said. “His confidence grew. He played well. He’s gonna be really good.”
Photo: Washington Post
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.