Rick Snider: Maryland's Alex Len may find that leaving college early doesn't always work out

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Sports,College,Rick Snider,Terps

Sometimes, lifetime dreams are irresistible. Hopefully Alex Len isn't hearing a siren's call.

Maryland's 7-foot-1 center will forgo his final two years of eligibility to enter the coming NBA Draft. He's a probable top-10 pick, maybe the first overall, says coach Mark Turgeon.

First overall? It's tough to argue against leaving if that's true, but it's probably not. Len has a chance to be a high pick, but in the NBA that means two years, at the most, to produce before being jettisoned. The Ukraine will seem a haven for its native son compared to the Siberian version of skid row basketball offers failed first-rounders.

Len averaged 11.9 points and 7.8 rebounds for the Terrapins last season while leading the ACC with 78 blocks. But his season was uneven. Sometimes he dominated, like the second meeting with Duke. Sometimes smaller players dominated him. That shouldn't happen when you're 85 inches tall.

But Turgeon makes a compelling argument for Len to become even better in the NBA than college.

"He's 19 [years old]," Turgeon said. "I can't imagine what he's going to be at 23."

Indeed, the NBA drafts big men for potential, which is why a stiff like 6-11 Kwame Brown was Washington's first overall selection in 2001. Six teams later, he's still bouncing between benches despite a bust of a career.

Len's departure is remindful of former Terps forward Chris Wilcox, who left after the 2002 national title when his marketability would never be higher. But Wilcox fell into the trap that might befall Len. Big men seldom get better in the NBA when leaving early, and potential second and third contracts won't be nearly the financial windfall they could be if Len stayed for a third college season to enter the league better prepared.

It's short-term money versus long-term success. The latter isn't guaranteed, but percentages favor those staying four years, like former Georgetown center Roy Hibbert. The 17th overall pick in 2008, Hibbert has steadily improved over six years with Indiana. His second contract is the perfect reason to get better in college, signing a four-year, $58 million deal in 2012.

Meanwhile, Jordan Williams is out of basketball two years after leaving Maryland in 2011. The forward played 43 games with New Jersey before being traded and cut. Such a big mistake.

Remember George Washington's Yinka Dare? The 7-footer left after two seasons as the 14th overall choice by New Jersey in 1994. He averaged 2.1 points and 2.6 rebounds in 110 games over four seasons. It was so obvious Dare wasn't ready.

Len has plenty of upside and good work ethic so maybe he'll make it. Turgeon pledged, "This kid is going to be something special. ... He's grown up so much he's ready for it."

Hopefully Len will prove special, indeed.

Examiner columnist Rick Snider has covered local sports since 1978. Read more on Twitter @Snide_Remarks or email rsnider@washingtonexaminer.com.

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