At 5 feet 9 inches and 150 pounds, Len does not imagine himself playing in the N.B.A. or even the N.C.A.A. tournament; he matches his local role model, Nate Robinson of the Knicks, in height and hustle but, alas, cannot replicate his remarkable 43 ½-inch vertical leap. Which means Len does not dunk. But he still harbors hopes of playing pro overseas and is something of a savant. “From the time he could walk, he was bouncing a basketball,” recalled his mother, Chana.
The playgrounds and gymnasiums of New York City are littered with hoop dreams, and with the legends of players whose talent triumphed over poverty and broken homes. Kenny Anderson grew up in LeFrak City, Queens, and had an army of recruiters tracking his skills by the sixth grade. Stephon Marbury, raised with six siblings in Coney Island, became “Starbury” and the subject of a book, “The Last Shot,” by the ninth. Both played for powerhouse city high schools (Archbishop Molloy, Lincoln), went to Georgia Tech on scholarship and left college diploma-less for the N.B.A. and its attendant fame and fortune.
Len, who is 18, does not fit that template. He is, let’s face it — he has, after all — shorter, whiter and wealthier: Few urban basketball prodigies summer in East Hampton. He is Walter Mitty in Nikes, and his most realistic role model is Ben Rudin, another Jewish point guard, who grew up in Scarsdale, N.Y., graduated from Middlebury College and now plays for Kiryat Ata in Israel’s top-level league, Ligat Ha’al.
Jesse Shapiro, coach of Fastbreak NYC, the Amateur Athletic Union team that Len has helped take to the national tournament the past two years, called him “hands-down the best white player, and one of the top five point guards, in the city leagues right now.” But after a wildly complimentary article about him appeared in February on Five Boro Sports, a Web site that tracks New York high school and college athletics, Len was denounced on blogs as “the most overrated player ever,” and was warned that nobody would ever “take him seriously playing at Hunter College High School,” which was further ridiculed as being in a “cupcake league.”
“You start to read that stuff and it makes you think, ‘Am I overrated? Am I over-hyped?’ ” he said. “I know I wasn’t a big name in New York City basketball, but it’s a little shocking that anybody would care that much to write that stuff about me when they probably haven’t even seen me play. If I’m not worth it, then don’t post it.”