Reporting David Elfin
If you were a basketball coach, which player would you rather have, Georgetown sophomore forward Otto Porter or Maryland sophomore center Alex Len?
Porter, who singlehandedly ended Syracuse’s 38-game home winning streak with 33 points (nine more than the rest of the team combined) on Feb. 23 and beat host Connecticut with a layup in double overtime three nights later, might well be the Big East Player of the Year. In this past Saturday’s victory over Rutgers, the 6-foot-8 Sikeston, Mo. native scored 28 of the Hoyas’ 64 points and pulled down eight rebounds. He leads Georgetown (23-5, 13-4 Big East, winners of 11 of their past 12) with 16.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game heading into tomorrow’s regular season finale against archrival Syracuse at Verizon Center.
Len, a 7-foot-1 Ukranian, is third in the ACC with 1.9 blocks per game. He leads the inconsistent Terps (20-10, 8-9 ACC) with an average of 8.1 rebounds and is second to sophomore forward Dez Wells with an average of 11.9 points heading into Sunday’s season finale at Virginia.
For a man as tall as he is, Len runs the floor well. He has taken major strides from last season when he was – so the Terps claim — 35 pounds skinnier and averaged only 6.0 points and 5.4 rebounds. However, Len has also slumped lately, perhaps because his mind is on the NBA.
Not Porter. He’s sparkled while filling a completely different role than he did while averaging 9.7 points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds as a freshman. He has rocketed from fourth option in coach John Thompson’s offense to the bellwether for the nation’s fifth-ranked team, one whose season turned around when Porter took command after sophomore forward Greg Whittington, then its second-leading scorer and rebounder, became academically ineligible two months ago.
Maryland rocked host Wake Forest this past Saturday for just its second road victory of the year as sophomore forward Dez Wells scored 23 points. Len managed just five although he did collect 10 rebounds for a team that’s only sixth in its own conference. During Wednesday’s home loss to North Carolina, Len scored just eight points.
And yet, Sports Illustrated projects Len as one of the top five picks in June’s NBA draft. Whenever Len disappears in Maryland’s offense, which happens often, he shows he’s not yet ready for the next level. But as they say, you can’t teach height, so he’s going to be a very rich man come summer. Forward Chris Wilcox left College Park in 2002 after Maryland won the national championship even though he was a far from polished sophomore. Eleven years later, he’s still making millions as a backup with the Boston Celtics.
Who knows how much the 19-year-old Len can develop as he continues to learn the game? But he would benefit from playing against players his own age by staying at Maryland than he will banging bodies with stronger, veteran big men in the NBA next season. The Wizards’ Jan Vesely is 6-11 but the 22-year-old Czech spends way more time on the bench than he does on the court two years into his NBA career.
Porter, on the other hand, makes an impact for the Hoyas every game. At 19, he’s the unquestioned top player on a Final Four contender. He’s Georgetown’s best from beyond the arc and at the free throw line and is second in field goal percentage among the nine Hoyas averaging more than three minutes. He’s first in steals and second in blocks. He’d probably tape his teammates’ ankles, too, if asked.
If Martell Webster, a small forward with a sweet three-point stroke, can thrive with the Wizards, so could Porter, who grew up loving the game as the son of a high school basketball standout.
If Len leaves Maryland this spring, which is certainly the buzz in College Park, he could have a long career in the NBA in a role like journeyman Wilcox or be a bit player like Vesely. But Len might become special if he stays in school another year or two.
Porter, who has been mum on whether he’ll return to Georgetown for his junior year next fall after such a dominant sophomore season, would also surely be a first-round pick come June. The difference is that if Porter turns pro, he’s ready to make the move.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin