By Chris Knoche
OK, let's recap.
Since Mark Turgeon left Texas A&M to replace a retiring Gary Williams at the University of Maryland, the following has happened:
Both the Washington Monument and the National Cathedral go on the disabled list.
A hurricane in August.
A couple of days in September where parts of the D.C. area had 13 inches of rain in less than 48 hours.
An unheard-of October snow.
Cue the locusts.
Then Turgeon loses combination guard Pe'Shon Howard to a significant injury in the first two weeks of practice.
And now, finally, the NCAA clearinghouse renders a decision on Maryland's most significant newcomer, 7-foot-2 Ukrainian freshman Alex Len. There's good news and bad news in the NCAA's call.
The good news is that the NCAA finally made it.
The bad news is that it docked the kid 10 games, effectively making him eligible around the Christmas holidays.
By all reports, this is a kid who presented some pretty meticulous records and was completely forthcoming at every turn with the NCAA. He signed a professional contract at age 14 that was never countersigned by his parents. He took what amounted to reasonable and customary stipends for living expenses.
Then the NCAA let him hang for a while until they pinged him some games.
People often think I have a lot of inside information on what goes on with Maryland's program. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don't... and I like it that way. It allows a more visceral reaction to things that transpire. So here is my gut reaction to the call that was made on Len:
The kid has already been docked 10 games. You have nothing to lose by appealing. Say it's cut in half and he gets five. Then he is able to play in games against Notre Dame and Illinois, perhaps your two biggest non-conference games of the season.
You also appeal because of what the kid has been put through. The fact that he has had to sit and watch in street clothes while his teammates practice has been isolating at the very least. Force the NCAA to wade through the facts again. You never know, someone might pay attention this time.
The good news is the kid is a difference-maker for the team and the program. He is not a franchise player by any stretch but adds size and depth to a team lacking both and appears to have a great relationship with his teammates.
To say that Alex Len is a long, long way from home is a vast understatement. If learning English were the only thing he had to do, he would still be facing an enormous undertaking. Yet there are some universal things that ring true in athletics that you just can't find anywhere else.
When Len was finally told today that he could practice, he broke down and cried.
In front of his coaches and his teammates.
Then he took the court for practice and was mobbed again by his new team.