I received a text message weeks ago explaining just how high the Cleveland Cavaliers supposedly were on Alex Len.
I dismissed this suggestion initially, assuming that Nerlens Noel would be the pick at No. 1 if the Cavs were targeting a big.
During the time since, however, that opinion has been overwhelmed by the very real possibility that Len could be the named called for Cleveland at No. 1 overall on Thursday.
While seeking a diversion from the championship celebration erupting on South Beach, I made a conscious effort this weekend to learn more about Len than what I previously gathered watching games and highlights.
One of the things I'm most encouraged by, that I had heard before but never quite registered, is that Alex Len is an accomplished cartwheel dunker.
An impressive feat for any athlete, of course, but especially so for a guy who measured 7'1" at the NBA Draft combine.
The inspiration for that signature move, I've come to learn, is the great Jackie Chan.
Alex Len was a gymnast growing up because of Jackie Chan movies
According to Jeff Baker of The Baltimore Sun, Len was inspired by Jackie Chan to be a gymnast at a young age.
"Len said his athletic career began as a gymnast when he was a boy. Maybe that explains why he did a cartwheel when he was introduced to the crowd last season during Maryland Madness. He said he liked gymnastics because he liked watching Jackie Chan films and saw how the actor moved."
I then began to wonder which Jackie Chan movie specifically influenced Len to become a young gymnast who went on to do cartwheel dunks at Maryland Madness before pinpointing two possibilities: Rush Hour 2 and / or Shanghai Knights.
Rush Hour 2, starring Chan and Chris Tucker, was released in 2001. With a born day of June 16, 1993, Len would've been approximately eight years old when Rush Hour 2 came out. Shanghai Knights, featuring Owen Wilson alongside Chan, came out in 2003 around Len's 10th birthday.
Also encouraging, when I google'd "tallest male gymnast in the world", was the result that wikiAnswers provided.
"The tallest male gymnast (at least to knowledge) is Russell Czeschin and jon-Michael Chombeau who are both 6'3". David Robinson of NBA fame, at 7'1", also scored very highly on his Naval exam in the gymnastics area (He was 6'7" at the time)."
Inspired by Jackie Chan, Alex Len became the next David Robinson.
Allow the possibility of truth in that statement 10 years from now to sink in and then explain how you pass on the cartwheel dunker from Maryland?
Olexiy Len, Jonas Valanciunas and the 2010 FIBA Europe Under-18 Tournament
After Len began competing athletically as a gymnast, he soon became one of his native Ukraine's top young basketball players. He also crossed paths with Jonas Valunciunas, who almost became a Cleveland Cavalier way back in 2011.
Our friend Joe Lull from 92.3 The Fan said that Jonas was scheduled to be the pick for Cleveland at No. 4 all the way up until Tristan Thompson wowed Chris Grant and company at his individual workout when I joined Joe on air a couple weeks ago.
Just prior to that draft, however, Jonas and Olexiy Len aka Alex Len were stars for Lithuania and Ukraine respectively in the FIBA Europe Under-18 tournament.
Valanciunas killed in the tourney, won a gold medal and was named MVP. He averaged 19.4 points, 13.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks. Here is what they said about his performance on FIBA's website:
"Valanciunas dominated this championship from the first moment and posted no less than six double-doubles. His best performance came against France in the Qualifying Round when he left on the floor 34 points with only two missed shots, 13 rebounds and four blocks. In the title game he reached double-double already before the end of the first half before writing almost better figures with 31 points and 18 rebounds."
There wasn't as much talent around Len, whose Ukraine squad finished 14th.
Despite that, though, Len led the Ukraine with 16 points, 11.4 rebounds and 4.3 (!!) blocks in nine games.
The two teams played against each other in an uneventful meeting that Ukraine lost 81-61. Len did have a monster game against Sweden, though, which was recapped by FIBA's as follows:
"Olexiy Len had another monster performance with 24 points, 20 rebounds, four blocks and four steals while Sweden saw Jonathan Person reach 24 points and 17 from Marcus Eriksson."
Jonas Valanciunas is a 6'11" center who just averaged 8.9 points and six rebounds for the Toronto Raptors as an NBA rookie in 2012-13.
Hopefully Len would be better than that in his first season, assuming he ends up in Cleveland. If he is better, revenge will belong to Alex for the FIBA tournament that Jonas once dominated at long last.
Should Cavs fans be worried about this guy from The Baltimore Sun crushing Len last night though?
Kevin Cowherd writes for The Baltimore Sun. I don't know too much about him, other than he probably watched Alex Len more than most Cavaliers fans did over the last two seasons.
Last night, Cowherd wrote an article titled: "Talk of Alex Len going No. 1 in draft? NBA scouts must be crazy."
An excerpt of which is included below.
"But the bottom line is this: there were too many times when Len disappeared from the Terps' offense last season. Completely disappeared. Much more was expected of him than he delivered with that underwhelming 11.9 scoring average. For whatever reason, he never developed the post moves to be any kind of a consistent scoring threat. As the season wore on, you wondered why Mark Turgeon and his coaching staff didn't run more plays for Len and get him more touches close to the basket.
But two things quickly became obvious: there were too many nights when Len struggled mightily to get open. At times he almost appeared disinterested in getting the ball down low and preferred to settle for turn-around jump shots 15 feet from the basket. But even when he did get the ball down low, Len never developed the drop-step and the go-to move to score consistently."
Cowherd also emphasized that Len is now "walking around in an ankle boot from stress fracture surgery that's prevented him from doing anything on the court for weeks and will keep him sidelined until the fall at the earliest." So jot him down as a guy who would not take Alex Len first overall on Thursday, in the event you were wondering.
I'm not sure if this worries me personally at this point. I would imagine, however, that Len's agent isn't thrilled with the article.
On the night Len balled out against Noel
If Alex Len does go first overall, I keep wondering how much of an impact his game against Nerlens Noel to open the season on November 9, 2012 may have on that decision.
I remember watching that entire game because I thought the Cavaliers could end up drafting Noel. I watched every move that Nerlens made during the first half, whether he had the basketball or not.
I noticed he was getting outplayed by the Maryland center but wasn't overly impressed by the way the Len kid was doing it. Maybe that's why I'm not a scout, though, I guess.
At halftime, my friend Joe Kotoch called and said that Alex Len would be a lottery pick too. I watched him more closely during the second half as a result.
He finished with 23 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks in a 72-69 loss.
Nerlens, meanwhile, finished with four points, nine rebounds and three blocks. I attributed his lack of production to nerves. They'd been talking about Nerlens for the last three years, it seemed. This was just the beginning.
There is no way it ever crossed my mind back then that Noel had just been outplayed by the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft.
But maybe, in hindsight, that's exactly what happened.