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Suddenly, Maryland's Alex Len is the big rumor to be No. 1 pick

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

The 2013 NBA Draft suddenly has some intrigue at the top.

After Nerlens Noel of Kentucky enjoyed some of the 2012-13 college basketball season -- and most of April and May -- as the presumed No. 1 pick, now come the rumors that won't be the case.

Suddenly, Maryland's Alex Len has his name bandied about as top choice for the Cleveland Cavaliers next Thursday. Len has been bumped up in rankings and on mock-draft boards as of late, an indicator of either his inevitable fate as top draft pick or typical pre-draft politics stirring up discussion that could mean little.

We see this practically every year, but not usually with the No. 1 pick. It's either a choice determined by this point, or one or two players are in the discussion -- as they have been for the weeks leading up to the draft. This time, Len -- while certainly not coming out of nowhere -- is slotted and suspected to be taken by the Cavs despite almost no chatter about that since Cleveland won the lottery in late May. We still have Len going mid-lottery in our mocks.

Some might think the choice of taking Len No. 1 makes sense in the immediate future, considering Noel's ACL injury is more than likely going to prevent him from being able to play the first few weeks of next season. (Obvious counterpoint: When dealing with the No. 1 pick, losing maybe two months of a possible 10-, 12-, 14-year career isn't worth drastic re-evaluation.)

Then again, Len himself is going through workouts and rehab in recovery from a stress fracture that will most definitely keep him out of basketball workouts through the summer at the very least. (The injury, as stress fractures tend to do, came at an undetermined time near the end of the season.)

But injury or not, Noel seems out -- again, according to rumors and "sources," which abound -- for Cleveland. And if it won't be Len, then UNLV's Anthony Bennett, Otto Porter of Georgetown or Kansas' Ben McLemore are the other targets. McLemore could be unlikely given a recent report that he showed up for a workout out of shape.

Len's an enticing player because of his 7-foot-1, 260-pound frame. He's got a game that's made for the NBA, a game that clearly improved month by month over the course of his two seasons at Maryland. Is he good enough for No. 1? That depends on the team and the pool of players available. And this draft not only isn't strong but is considered by some to be the weakest in two decades.

What remains intriguing, a little confusing but ultimately refreshing about this news: Len's stock is improving pretty much exclusively because of his play at Maryland. The stress fracture has prevented him from going in workouts, which means doing cone drills and measuring his vert haven't affected his stock. Cavaliers exec Zydrunas Ilgauskus is also reportedly enamored with Len.

And now that the NBA season's over, we have six days to go before the next iteration and wave of players are ushered into the league. Why not have a little more suspense and surprise? This year's draft crop could use it.

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