Baltimore Sun reporter Don Markus and editor Matt Bracken weigh in on the three biggest topics of the past week in Maryland sports.
Will Alex Len’s injury impact his draft status?
Don Markus: Len, who will be out four to six months after undergoing surgery to stabilize his left ankle, is definitely going to be a lottery pick in next month’s NBA draft. Most mock drafts have the 7-1 center going anywhere from No. 5 to No. 11, but a lot will have to do with the outcome of the bouncing balls that determine the order of the lottery.
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After talking with Len’s agent Thursday, I think it’s going to come down to a handful of teams that have spent a lot of time scouting him dating back to his junior days in Ukraine. Having spoken with a number of scouts over the past season at Maryland games, I know that two teams very interested in Len are the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Washington Wizards.
Mike Lelchitski, Len’s Gaitherburg-based agent, said that “it’s all about fit” and is hoping that a team doesn’t just draft his client because he’s still on the board. Though Len would have certainly helped himself had he been able to go through private workouts – remember how Kwame Brown ended up being No. 1 by the Wizards after outplaying Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler? – two other players expected to go up are dealing with more serious injuries.
Nerlens Noel, who tore an ACL during his freshman year at Kentucky, is still being mentioned by most draft expects as the No. 1 overall pick. Given how long it has taken Derrick Rose to get back, whoever picks the 6-10 center/forward will have to believe he won’t be at full strength when the 2013-14 season begins next fall.
It was also disclosed this week that UNLV’s Anthony Bennett, considered by most to be a top 5 pick, just underwent surgery to repair of torn rotator cuff. While the recovery time for Bennett is about the same as it is for Len, a partial stress fracture of the ankle is not as serious. Even Len’s agent said that Len could have allowed the injury to heal with rest, but chose to be more proactive.
A lot will change once the prospects hit Chicago for the NBA combine and even more once individual workouts begin. A number of players being mentioned as high lottery picks – including Michigan point guard Trey Burke, Georgetown forward Otto Porter and Indiana guard Victor Oladipo – will have the opportunity to move up the board.
One thing clearly in Len’s favor is his height and the skill set he brings. The old adage that you can’t teach height is certainly true for Len, whose ability to run the court and hit mid-range jumpers plays well in what will be a more wide-open game than the one he played in college. Though still learning the language, Len’s ability to communicate during interviews in Chicago will hold a key to where he is drafted.
Where does Maryland stand in its pursuit of basketball transfers?
Matt Bracken: With Eli Carter and Vertrail Vaughns off the board to Florida and North Texas, respectively, the Terps’ attention is focused on two other guards still available on the transfer wire.
The big name remains former Lake Clifton guard Antonio Barton, who will graduate from Memphis this summer and be able to transfer and play immediately. Don Markus reported last month that Barton plans to be back in Baltimore this weekend for his daughter Skyy’s fourth birthday. He will also visit Maryland.
Maryland has a lot to offer Barton. With Roddy Peters coming off shoulder surgery, Barton could conceivably start at the 1 from Day 1. That would allow Peters to ease his way into the lineup, and put Seth Allen at his more natural position off the ball. And obviously, Barton would be close to home for his final year of college.
But the other competitors have things to sell, too. Kansas State has an opening at the point with Angel Rodriguez’s transfer to Miami. The Wildcats have former Illinois guard Chester Frazier, who – like Barton – played for Lake Clifton and Cecil Kirk, on staff.
Syracuse, meanwhile, loses Michael Carter-Williams to the NBA Draft. The Orange welcome top point guard recruit Tyler Ennis to campus, but there still should be time available. Barton is also very close with Syracuse’s top player, Baltimore native C.J. Fair.
Finally, Texas A&M can offer Barton lots of playing time, as can Tennessee, which parted ways this week with point guard Trae Golden, who would have been a senior. Needless to say Barton has lots of options – he was contacted by 24 schools – and a decision probably isn’t imminent.
Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post, meanwhile, reported this week that Maryland is involved with Florida International transfer Malik Smith, who averaged 14.1 points for the Golden Panthers as a junior. According to Prewitt, Smith said he’ll choose next week between Alabama, Arkansas, Maryland, Minnesota and FIU.
Maryland landed its third football recruit of the 2014 class this week. What can Terps fans expect from Johnathan Thomas?
Matt Bracken: Joining quarterback Will Ulmer and guard/center Jared Cohen in Maryland’s class will be Thomas, a three-star running back from St. John’s Prep in Danvers, Mass. The Terps had to beat out Arkansas, Boston College and Connecticut for Thomas.
Thomas is the latest highly touted prospect from the Northeast – linebacker Abner Logan from the Boston area and tight end Andrew Isaacs from Connecticut are others that come to mind – that Maryland has landed. It’s probably reasonable to expect the Terps to continue mining that area for players interested in playing in the Big Ten while staying on the East Coast.
Thomas will join a running back depth chart in 2014 that will feature Brandon Ross, Wes Brown, Albert Reid and Joe Riddle. The Terps didn’t take a tailback in 2013, so the 5-foot-11, 215-pound player may have company in this class.
The No. 38-ranked running back in 2014 according to Rivals.com, Thomas runs a 4.47 40. Check out highlights of Thomas below.