FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — If they had not left school early, Archie Goodwin would be a sophomore at Kentucky and Alex Len a junior at Maryland.
Now paired together with the Phoenix Suns, they are both freshmen, making Northern Arizona University the perfect backdrop for two rookies in their first NBA training camp.
“It’s been really good,” Goodwin said Friday. “The experience is great for me. I’ve learned a lot. Just to be here with the guys and competing, there’s nothing else that I could ask for. Hopefully we can just tighten up on the things we need to and we can have a successful season.”
The Suns are expected to go slow with their two young stars, allowing them each to find their way in a brand new world.
“Yeah, my first practice,” Len answered when asked if he’s had his ‘welcome-to-the-NBA-moment.’ “All guys are physical, athletic. You feel it right away. The game is so much different. It’s faster. Guys are on a whole different level.”
The Suns selected Len, 20, with the fifth overall pick. They drafted the 7-foot-1 center knowing he had undergone left ankle surgery in May and would likely need a similar procedure done on his right ankle, which he did in July.
Len, though, has been a full participate the entire training camp with only the higher elevation slowing him — and others — down.
“We forget that he hasn’t done anything in six months,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said. “But I think he’s doing a great job of playing hard. He’s trying to listen to what we’re doing. He’s asking the coaches questions. We forget sometimes how young he is and things that he has to learn. We’re trying to give him those little hints of when he gets the ball inside, how to get in the best position.”
Goodwin, who only recently turned 19, was acquired on draft night. The 29th overall pick has consistently been the last player off the court at the Rolle Activity Center.
“Since high school I’ve always been the hardest worker,” he said. “I just carry that over to whatever level I’m at.”
Goodwin has followed up his successful summer, averaging 13.1 points and 3.3 rebounds to help lead the Suns to a runner-up finish in the Las Vegas Summer League, with a solid camp thus far. He impressed observers Thursday, running past Miles Plumlee opening up a passing lane for Eric Bledsoe to feed him for a dunk in transition.
“The physical play with him is something he’s going to have to get used to,” Hornacek said. “But he’s doing a nice job. He’s relatively skinny (Goodwin is 6-5, 198 pounds) and gets bounced around yet when he drives through the lane and gets to the basket, he ends up finishing. That’s a heck of a knack to have.”
With four point guards in camp, Goodwin has found himself playing more shooting guard. “I like to play off the ball,” he said.
Len, meanwhile, is battling Plumlee to be the backup center to Marcin Gortat.
“I have a lot of stuff to learn, defensively, offensively; just a lot of little things,” Len said. “I work with coaches; try to watch a lot of film to get better.”
That is music to the ears of the first-year head coach.
“Our young guys are good because they work hard,” Hornacek said. “That’s what’s going to make them better as the years go on. That’s what we’re happy about is to see the effort that they put in.”