It was three hours before the NBA draft and Alex Len needed to hide his shoe so the fans and cameras and reporters wouldn’t spoil the big surprise. Sporting an Italian wool suit handcrafted by a Grand Central Station tailor, Len settled on a white drawstring bag, folding in his size-15 shoe before limping out the hotel door, his partially fractured left ankle still encased in a plastic walking boot. Len needed the shoe handy because at 8:06 p.m., David Stern stepped toward the Barclays Center lectern, opened a white placard and said, “With the fifth pick in the 2013 NBA draft, the Phoenix Suns select Alex Len from . . . the University of Maryland.” He needed it because, on the biggest night of his life, he wasn’t about to shake hands with the NBA commissioner and smile for pictures without looking his absolute best. That meant temporarily ditching the boot and walking across the stage like a man with two healthy ankles. Stern’s words, in a way, marked the beginning of Len’s next chapter, a story that began seven years ago when he first moved away his Ukrainian home town to chase an impossible dream. Len immigrated in 2011 to College Park, where he went from a teenager who was nervous to order in English at fast-food restaurants to Maryland’s highest draft pick since Steve Francis in 1999. “It was crazy,” Len said. “The process — the NBA draft is really unpredictable. So it was crazy. But I’m trying to just enjoy it. Two years ago I had no idea I was going to be here at this point. But I worked hard, and the hard work paid off.” In some ways, Len still fancies himself a family boy at heart, the grandson of a Ukrainian coal miner, the son of a former train station manager, the same 7-year-old who watched “Home Alone” and strung buckets of water from the ceiling of his apartment as booby traps. Everything is about to change for Alex Len. But in his mind, nothing will.
Taken fifth by the Phoenix Suns, Alex Len completes journey from Ukraine to NBA
Washington Post | Jun 28