Alex Len placing a Phoenix Suns hat on his head Thursday could end up being his most significant contribution to the Terrapins men’s basketball team.
His 7-foot-1 presence on the floor dwarfed almost anyone he shared the court with. His 23 points and 12 rebounds against then-No. 3 Kentucky at Barclays Center in November were his coming-out party against fellow lottery pick Nerlens Noel. And his 19 points, nine rebounds and three blocks helped propel the Terps to another historic upset of Duke in February.
But five years down the road, the simple fact Len was drafted fifth overall could dwarf any of his collegiate or professional accomplishments for the Terps.
Flash back to October, when students all over the campus huddled around TVs and computers to await the college decision of Aaron and Andrew Harrison, two of the top recruits in the class of 2013. It was Maryland, or it was Kentucky. Terps coach Mark Turgeon had emerged as an ace recruiter to secure the Terps as a finalist for the Harrison twins, something that would have been hard to imagine under former coach Gary Williams.
But there the Terps were, on the cusp of a coup that could instantly vault them into the conversation for the 2014 Final Four.
In the end, the Harrisons chose Kentucky. And it was hard to fault their reasoning.
They wanted to go to the NBA. They were likely to be one-and-done at whatever school snagged them. And they wanted to go somewhere that would propel them higher and higher in the lottery.
Kentucky coach John Calipari has done that time and time again with his players throughout his coaching career.
Calipari has coached three of the past six No. 1 draft picks. One of them — the Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose — is an NBA Most Valuable Player. Another, the Washington Wizards’ John Wall, is in line for a max contract and was one of five Kentucky players drafted in the first round of the 2010 draft. And the third, New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, just finished up a solid rookie campaign.
What did Turgeon and the Terps have to show compared to that?
Turgeon could only promise the future to the Harrisons based on his word. His coaching track record at Texas A&M was stellar, with consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. But he lacked that big draw, the proof that recruits like the Harrisons might need to feel completely comfortable with their futures.
With Len, Turgeon now has that card in his deck.
He can show any recruit what he and his staff did, turning a relatively unknown commodity with vast potential into a player who was widely expected to be the first overall pick in the draft. For a high school player who already has a proven record, the idea that Turgeon and company could take him higher is a vital selling point.
It’s almost a bonus, too, since Turgeon and his staff have emerged as major players in the college basketball recruiting scene. ESPN ranks the 2014 class of Dion Wiley, Melo Trimble and Jared Nickens as the fourth-best in the nation behind North Carolina, Ohio State and Louisville. Turgeon was going toe-to-toe with Roy Williams, Thad Matta and Rick Pitino for the nation’s best even before Len was a lock for the lottery.
It just gets even better for the Terps now.
So the next time Turgeon’s in the running to nab a recruit or two like the Harrisons, he’ll no longer be playing behind the curve. He’ll have a key tool in the recruiting game — one that’s 7-foot-1 and about to move to the Arizona desert.