In a new country in which he must learn a language and a culture, Alex Len knows basketball best.
The sport he loves, and his Maryland teammates, have helped keep the 7-foot-1 center grounded since his move to College Park, than 4,500 miles from his home in Antratsit, Ukraine.
So upon learning that he could resume practicing with his team, Len couldn't help but cry. He was so giddy to be back on the floor with the Terps that he neglected to have his ankles wrapped.
"Alex wants to play college basketball. That was something he's wanted to do. So it was really hard for him, and that's why all the tears and emotion came out yesterday," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said Thursday in recounting the scene from the day before.
"He forgot to get taped — he just ran out on the floor. He's crying, guys are hugging him and I said: 'Give him a ball so he'd quit crying. I'm going to start crying.' It was one of those moments that as a coach I'll never forget," Turgeon said.
Len will play for the Terps in Friday night's Comcast Center exhibition game against Northwood, a small school in West Palm Beach, Fla., coached by former Villanova coach Rollie Massimino and ranked No. 1 in preseason NAIA polls. It will be Turgeon's first game as Maryland coach in front of the home crowd.
"We're going to play [Len] tomorrow night. He'll be a nervous wreck," Turgeon said.
It will be the first time Len will play in front of fans since a scrimmage during last month's Maryland Madness preseason kickoff in which he ran the court well and had multiple dunks.
Since then, Len and Maryland had waited for an NCAA panel to render a decision on Len. The school learned Wednesday that the player could begin practicing immediately and play after sitting out 10 games.
Len's eligibility — based on amateurism guidelines — was under study because of a previous stint with a club overseas. That, apparently, is the reason he must sit 10 games.
Maryland had anticipated a penalty but did not know its length until Wednesday. "I'm thrilled to death with the decision," Turgeon said.
Waiting for a decision apparently took a toll on the player, who has not been made available to the media. He had appeared with the team during an open workout Saturday but could not play. He spent part of the scrimmage signing autographs for children.
"I can tell you he was losing a lot of sleep," senior guard-forward Sean Mosley said. "He used to come in the locker room sluggish every day. It's just an honor to have a 7-1 presence playing for us at the University of Maryland. He's a great shot blocker. He has a good mid-range game, and he can finish in transition."
Turgeon said of Len: "He's got a lot of tools you can't teach. One is 7-foot-1 with a long wingspan, and he's got good timing on blocking shots. He probably blocked four or five shots in practice yesterday. And he's got a nice touch."
But Turgeon, whose team lacks size and depth, seemed not to want to raise fans' expectations about Len, who appears to have the coordination of a smaller man.
"He is not the savior. He's not a hero. Are we better with Alex? Yes. We're deeper. It gives us eight scholarship players. [But the] physicality of the game and the speed of the game — he's got to get used to that," the coach said.
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