Terps Trio: Alex Len at No. 1, 2014 hoops class, Andrew Gray and Ohio recruiting

June 21, 2013

Baltimore Sun reporter Don Markus and editor Matt Bracken weigh in on the three biggest topics of the past week in Maryland sports.

Is Alex Len better off not being the top pick in the 2013 draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers and instead going a few spots down to Charlotte, Phoenix or New Orleans?

Don Markus: Being the No. 1 overall pick certainly carries a status that follows a player through an NBA career and could ultimately carry a stigma if things don’t go well.  Consider the last former Terp star who left after his sophomore year as the top selection.

Joe Smith was the reigning national player of the year in 1994-95. He was considered by NBA scouts a great all-around college player. The only knocks against the 6-10 Smith were his lack of bulk and the fact that he scored most of his points around the basket.

Many figured he would put on weight and develop a mid-range jump shot once he reached the pros. The player known in college as “The Beast” put on a little weight, but never played at more than 225 pounds. He got more comfortable facing the basket, but was never considered a great outside shooter.  

Though his career with the Golden State Warriors started well – he was on the All-Rookie team and averaged better than 15 points in each of his first three seasons, including a career-high 18 points in his second year – Smith was never more than a second or third option.

Eventually, Smith became a journeyman in a long but fairly unspectacular 16-year career in which he averaged a shade under 11 points.

Always considered a good teammate -- he was a favorite of Kevin Garnett in Minnesota and LeBron James in Cleveland -- he played on 12 teams before retiring with the Los Angeles Lakers two years ago.

While not thought to be the biggest bust of No. 1 picks, Smith has been mentioned (a bit unfairly, I think) on many short lists, along with LaRue Martin, Kwame Brown and Joe Barry Carroll. While Smith could have used his last two years to develop his body and his face-up game, there’s no thought that his career would have rivaled Tim Duncan, who played in Smith’s shadow in the Atlantic Coast Conference during their first two years in college.  

But Smith was clearly more NBA-ready than Len is or just about any of the other big men in this year’s draft. Knowing the albatross that Smith carried through much of his NBA career, I think he would have been viewed differently had he not been the No. 1 overall pick.

Most fans, including many who follow the Terps, thought I was crazy to even mention earlier this week that the Cavaliers were considering Len for the top pick. One of them called me a “moron” and I’m not even doing the picking.

I know how important it is for Maryland coach Mark Turgeon to tell recruits he helped develop the No. 1 pick in the draft, and I know that Len would work hard to live up to the expectations that come with being the top selection. But given the options, I think it might be easier for Len – at least until he gets stronger and a little more comfortable in the post-up game – to go a little lower in the draft.

Before talk surfaced recently of Len potentially supplanting former Kentucky center Nerlens Noel, I thought it would be great for Len to be taken by the New Orleans Pelicans at No. 6 playing alongside Anthony Davis and former Terp star Greivis Vasquez, or even dropping to the Oklahoma City Thunder at No. 12, and learning in practice against the likes of Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins.

It now appears that the lowest Len could go is No. 4 to the Bobcats, who recently hired former Knicks star Patrick Ewing as their associate head coach. There would be little pressure there for Len, given how bad the team has been and how much pressure is on majority owner Michael Jordan. But given Jordan’s history of bad draft picks – Brown comes immediately to mind – Len would have to prove he is not just another one added to a list.

I still think there’s a possibility that the Cavaliers could trade the pick, but if they don’t and wind up drafting Len, here’s hoping that King James is on his way back to Cleveland after leading the Miami Heat to another championship next season. That alone could be the difference between Len having a great start to his NBA career or becoming another Joe Smith.

With the commitment earlier this week from Jared Nickens, how will Mark Turgeon finish recruiting for the incoming class of 2014?

Don Markus: I think it’s apparent that the Terps are done recruiting guards and wing players, meaning that local star Phil Booth Jr. (Mount St. Joseph) is the odd man out unless one of the other prospects decommits or someone on the current roster leaves before the summer is over.

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