Morrow: Your goal shouldn’t be to make it to the NBA. Instead, your focus right now should be to find a place that will pay you to play basketball for at least the next year. Don’t put all that pressure on yourself by thinking too far ahead. Hell, I was almost playing in Ukraine right out of college — and I was hyped! I knew it was freezing out there but I didn’t give a shit. I’d bring a jacket. They were offering me $80,000 a year. Out of college. To play basketball. They even gave me a $10,000 signing bonus. I had a daughter on the way and I was ready for her to grow up Ukrainian. I wasn’t even sure what the language looked or sounded like, but I was ready to pledge my allegiance, man. If you have an overseas opportunity available to you, be excited about it. A lot of great players make in a league before they make it in the league.
The new Ukrainian basketball federation president Mikhail Brodskiy confirmed that Evgen Murzin is going to be the new coach of the national team for the upcoming Eurobasket and the big bet now is called Alex Len. The new president is trying to lure the center of the Phoenix Suns and make him the new star of the team in the post coach Fratello era.
Alex Len’s grandparents can hear the gunfire from their home in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have been in fierce fighting with Ukrainian forces. Local police have abandoned his hometown, leaving gangs to roam the streets and terrorize residents. A half-world away, the 21-year-old center is showing he belongs in the NBA, displaying the skills that led the Phoenix Suns chose him fifth overall in the 2013 draft. “When I play it’s like a different world, just basketball,” he said. “Definitely off the court it’s sad. …Two years ago it was one country. Now all of a sudden people divide, separate themselves, like we’re different.”
He has brought his mother to live with him. His grandparents came for a short time, but the culture change was too much for them, he said, so they returned home. “My grandparents right now are right in the middle of a war zone,” he said. “I tried to get them to stay over here, but you know how old people are. For them it was too big a change.” No one in his family has been hurt in the fighting, Len said, “thank God.”
And back home, the fighting goes on despite a supposed cease fire in a war Len knew was “getting worse each day.” He chooses no side. “I’m Ukrainian and I won’t go against Russia, too. I’m right in the middle,” Len said. “I just want peace for everybody. I just don’t want people to die.”
The cautious Fratello will not be drawn into predictions or thoughts about Ukraine’s chances in this group so soon before the draw for the tournament was made clear, and especially before he has a good idea on the composition of his team’s roster. “If you ask how many games can we win in this group, I think the preparation is going to be very important, for any of these teams,” he said. “If I could tell you right now who is going to show up and play for us in the summer, it would make it easier to talk about my team.”