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 isn’t sure if the NBA Draft will be broadcast in his native Ukraine, but he hopes his countrymen get to see him shake David Stern’s hand Thursday night.
And he believes he should be the first player to do so as the No. 1 overall pick — ahead of Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel.
“Definitely, I think I played against him my first game I think. I did well against him,” the 7-foot-1 Len said Wednesday at the Westin Hotel in midtown Manhattan, referring to a Nov. 9 game at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in which Len went for 23 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks and Noel had four points, nine boards and three blocks in Kentucky’s 72-69 victory over Maryland.
“It seems like a long time ago,” he added. “But it was a great game. It was first game of the season. I was mad because we lost, but it was great game for me. I could show that I have potential to be NBA player.”
Neither Noel nor Len said they had been informed by the Cleveland Cavaliers what they will do with the No. 1 overall pick, and reports continue to swirl that the Cavs are actively shopping the pick in a trade.
“No, they haven’t [told me],” the 6-11 Noel said of the Cavs.
“I have no idea, I have no idea,” Len said. “This draft is really unpredictable. I have no idea where I’m going to go.”
The softspoken Noel — who interviewed with Orlando and Washington as well as Cleveland — sounded like it wouldn’t crush him if he didn’t go No. 1.
“I guess I’ll just sit down and wait for that,” he said when asked what would happen if he’s not the No. 1 pick. “I’m not making any assumptions on where I go. I’m just happy to be here with you guys and ready to cherish this moment.”
If Noel were picked No. 1, he would be the third Kentucky/John Calipari player to go No. 1 overall in the last four years (John Wall, Anthony Davis).
“Oh yeah, that’s a great fraternity,” said Noel, who averaged who averaged 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.4 blocks before tearing his ACL in Feburary. “That’s something that you can tell your grandkids about…I’m just happy to be here and wherever I go in the draft I’m just ready to make an impact to whatever I team to right away.”
Still, Len, who averaged 11.9 points and 7.8 rebounds last season, conceded that it was important for him to be No. 1.
“Definitely, somewhere inside you want to be No. 1, you want to be the best so it’s a competitive side is telling you, ‘Yeah, I want to be No. 1.'”
Len said he feels a comfortability factor with the Cavaliers because they have both Ukrainian-born big man Vitaly Potapenko and Lithuanian center Žydrūnas Ilgauskas.
“They both spoke Russian, it was fun time,” he said.
He added that at 7-1, his “growth plate is still open” and he expects to grow another inch or two.
Both Len and Noel are injured and are on different timetables.
Len continues to wear a walking boot on his left ankle from a stress fracture that “started bothering me in February, but we found out after the season.”
But he said he expects to be back on the court soon.
“I’m off the crutches and I got another three weeks in the boot and hopefully I’m going to start doing stuff on the court,” Len said.
Asked if he’d be ready for training camp in the fall, he said, “Yes.”
Noel, meantime, targeted “around October or November” for his return from ACL recovery, and added “more towards November.”
“I’m well ahead of schedule still,” Noel said.
Much had been made of Noel’s thin frame. He said he weighs 217 pounds and hopes to “add weight gradually” going forward.
As for the Draft, Noel said his mother, Dorcina, his brothers, his little sister and several cousins will be in New York.
“It’s a real special moment for them and and I’m blessed and fortunate to be sharing it with them, so I’m really looking forward to tomorrow,” Noel said.
Len said his mother and his sister came to the U.S. two weeks ago for the Draft, and that if he were to go No. 1 overall it would mean a great deal to his family, but more to his country. He said he would be the seventh player taken overall from the Ukraine in the NBA Draft.
“It would mean a lot,” he said. “Right now, soccer is the No. 1 sport in the country. If I go high maybe somehow it’s going to help popularize the basketball in Ukraine.”
Photo: Baltimore Sun
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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 and filmmaker whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
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.