He left for America seven years ago and has never come back until now. In recent years, he remained the only one who represented our country in the world’s most prestigious basketball league - the NBA. A guy from a working family from Luhansk region is an intellectual: he cites the Roman emperor and is preparing for a new stage in his life.
Maksym Shylin: Oleksiy, you have visited Ukraine for the first time in seven years. You have spent about a week here. What are your first impressions: how did the country change during this time?
Oleksiy "Alex" Len: I believe it has changed for the better. I do not recall much about Kyiv because most of the time I have spent in Dnipro. I saw the capital when I came to the competitions. Many different shops, restaurants, shopping centers have opened, but people create the first impression. They are very nice, no one bothers you. In America, people always come to me, ask something. For example, what is my height.
It is no secret that Americans are open enough. Have Ukrainians moved forward in this regard?
Personally, I like the way we do now. Everyone goes his own way and does not touch anyone. Our people are hospitable.
When coming to Ukraine, many notice that locals have gloomy faces, busy with their smartphones. Did you pay attention to this?
There were a couple of cases, to be honest. Once I went to buy some water, the cashier at the supermarket gave me a bottle, threw the receipt on the table and turned away. "Welcome" home.
Life beyond the seas: what features of the Americans have you already adopted, and which ones will you never accept?
It is hard for me to judge because I do not notice any particular changes in myself. But what is really interesting, all my dreams are in English! I have spent ten days here, and I recently dreamed that my grandmother scolded me. It was the first dream in Russian. I have waked up. This did not happen to me for a long time.
You went to study at the University of Maryland at the age of 18. Then there was not yet a multi-million dollar contract. How your life was originally arranged?
I a lot of hard work: training in the morning, then lectures at the university – I had English classes and ordinary subjects – and back to training. And from 7 to 10 I had extra English classes because I had to improve it (I did not speak well then).
Not all Ukrainian athletes attach importance to English. I know that you were also among them. Tell me, how quickly have you learned the language?
It took me a year and a half to make me feel comfortable in the society. Before that, I was a little shy. Sometimes, I even ordered food on the phone to have less communication. Then I have learned the language, and it rolls from there on.
What did you study at the university?
I had a “Family in Science” specialty. I do not even know how to accurately translate it. There were psychology and other similar subjects. This education involves working with children, but I honestly took this profession only because there were the easiest subjects, and with my then English it was easier to study them. And I went to college just because of basketball, and not because of studying, so I did not care much about the subjects.
I heard that you like reading. What is the last book you read?
I always have one book with me - "Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius. This is a book in psychology. I read it at school and now I carry it like a Bible with me. Very interesting ideas.
Why did it become your stalker book?
Marcus Aurelius was the greatest Roman emperor. All he described his life in a diary, after his death the diary was read. He depicted there how to properly behave in society, to communicate with people. And I believe that he did everything right.
What do you think about Michael Wolff’s book about Trump?
I do not go deep into politics, I have not heard about this book.
Actually, our country has quite an active political life: the Revolution of Dignity, the conflict with Russia, elections 2019. Did you have the opportunity to monitor the situation in Ukraine?
I tried to follow as often as possible, but it is hard. In the US, little is said about this in the news. Watching Ukrainian, Russian, and American channels, you see that all say different things. It is difficult to judge from a distance. I have watched documentaries, listened to what my relatives told me.
Here we constantly hear: America gave us weapons, the States helped with money and so on. Living there, can you say that Ukraine is heard so often?
Probably, everything is decided at the high level, and you would never see anything about Ukraine in the news.
Did your ex-partners from "Phoenix" and in general people from your milieu ask about Ukraine?
People, who ask me such questions, have read about it, and I tried to explain that there was a war there. But it was difficult for me, so I tried to skip this topic because I do not know much about it.
You were born and lived in Antratsyt (Donbas), for some time you were trained in Luhansk, right?
I have been there for six months, and then, when we went to the competitions in Dnipro, I was noticed and invited to a local school, a much better school. I immediately moved there.
Now, these cities are occupied. How do you remember them?
I remember only mines and waste pits in Antratsyt, and sports school boarding house in Luhansk because I spent most of the time there.
Your mom and sister live in the US, right. Have your relatives or friends left there?
Yes, my friends have stayed there, as well as relatives, but we took our grandparents to Dnipro. We support relations, we communicate.
In Luhansk region, everything was in a deplorable state, except perhaps football and volleyball. Who motivated you to do basketball?
My height! (laughs) I played chess, did gymnastics, and martial arts, when I was small, and then I began to grow very quickly, and my coach said: "Why are you doing this crap, let us go to the basketball hall." So I began to train.
Did your parents say something, I mean did they somehow encouraged you to go in for sports?
Once my father took me to the mine and said: "If you do not do your best - you will stay working here." For me, it was a motivation to get out of there.
So he just took you to the mine? (Oleksiy’s father worked as a miner, -Ed.)
Yes, yes. We went down. I did not really like it there (laughs).
In a recent interview, you said: "My job is to play basketball, and I do not like being public." Therefore, in the US, you almost did not give interviews. What exactly is holding you back?
I think that it is unreal to give interviews all the time. You know, I come, do my job, and then I just want to go and communicate with my family or with my loved ones.
A successful athlete in the West is also a good business project with solid advertising contracts, and if our people have a million, they do not really care about promotion. Is it the mentality?
Here a set of reasons: both upbringing and psychology, and of course, your desire. If you are not interested, then you will not do it. Maybe you have an interest in another business and you do not want to focus on yourself.
You have not posted in your Instagram for a year. Why? Do people want to know more about your life (after the debut for the national team of Ukraine, Oleksiy did publish three publications in the social network, - Ed.)?
It takes too much time. Especially before bed. It really takes a couple of hours. You look at the clock, and it is midnight. So I have deleted the application and do not think to go back to it.
A well-known basketball simulator has published cards of NBA players. Your overall rating is 77 out of 100. Are you pleased with the assessment or is it better?
I do not know. Many people like it, but I do not play basketball through video games. I have 24 hours a day. I prefer to play shoot 'em ups: Call Of Duty, for example.
Now you are debuting for the adult team. Previously you said that this would happen, as soon as you get a second contract. What is its peculiarity?
I would like to succeed. So it turned out that the first year I had numerous traumas, and I felt uncomfortable. Now I am ready. I wanted to come here when I felt it.
How real are Ukraine’s chances to be selected for the World Cup? Today we occupy the penultimate place in a group of six teams.
The chances are small. We and Latvia have a special position there. We need to win one game more than they do, but we will try and strive from game to game.
Now you have left "Phoenix" and joined "Atlanta." How did you settle into a new team? Was there some kind of initiation?
No, no rituals or initiation. All my initiations were back in the first year in the NBA. Now I know all the guys. I have played with someone of them in the youth leagues and the national team.
So how this initiation procedure took place in 2013?
The rule is this: if you are a newcomer, you are assigned to a “veteran,” and you must do what he tells you. I had Gerald Green. I had to bring him two bottles of Fanta before each training. This was our golden rule. I had to carry his bags too. Then they gave me a pink bag, and I had to carry it with me.
Why pink? Is it a kind of joke?
Yeah, kind of a joke.
When you agreed to join "Atlanta," the club was literally at the bottom of the standings in the last season, did not it embarrass you?
So there is a room for improving the rating! When I looked, for me it was the best option: more playing time and the opportunity to show myself. I went there because of this.
You had an offer from "Toronto," the NBA leaders, why did not it work out?
Of course, "Toronto" means playing in a team that almost certainly will come to the playoffs, and it would be cool to show yourself on such a big stage. I had a real choice: either "Atlanta" or "Toronto". But I weighed everything and decided that for a future career, "Atlanta" is a smart decision. In addition, "Atlanta" has offered more favorable financial conditions.
Atlanta, state of Georgia. You have already bought a house there. Tell me more about your new apartment, how many floors it has, how do you get settled in your own house?
I have bought a three-story house for myself. My plan is to construct the basement and make it a place for boys. The guys would come so that we could hang out there. This is a cozy house. Not far from the gym, so that I could do it all.
Read the original text at 112.ua.