Mark Turgeon summoned swingman Dez Wells on Wednesday morning, news from Indianapolis in hand. Also in the room were the administrators who worked on Wells’ appeal for immediate eligibility.
This was a happy occasion. The NCAA declared Wells eligible Wednesday, ending the sophomore swingman’s odyssey into and the out of college basketball purgatory after his summer expulsion from Xavier and amplifying the Terrapins’ prospects for a return to the postseason.
“He just smiled,” Turgeon said. “I brought everybody into the room that was part of the process and he gave everybody a hug and thanked them. Then we started to make phone calls and that’s when it got really emotional, calling his mom and calling people that are close to him.”
Turgeon declined to make Wells available for interviews Wednesday, citing the emotional strain of the day. But make no mistake: While Wells was the day’s biggest winner, Maryland’s outlook for the season got much better with an additional backcourt option.
Wells averaged 9.8 points and 4.9 rebounds as a freshman at Xavier, where he started all 32 games he played in for the Musketeers. His presence is an instant talent jolt, transforming the Terps into a plausible top 25 outfit entering Friday’s opener against Kentucky in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“Let’s don’t get carried away,” Turgeon said. “We were 17- last year, we have a lot of young kids that are still going to play. Going into Friday’s game, Kentucky’s still going to roll out players we couldn’t even get involved with. Let’s be realistic here. Do I expect us to be a really good here at some point this year? Yes, I do. I think our young kids will grow up quickly and we have great depth.”
It is uncertain precisely how Wells’ eligibility will impact how Turgeon doles out minutes. Several players, though, could see their playing time altered.
Wells’ presence instantly creates a deeper backcourt. Nick Faust, a regular starter who has worked at point guard and both wing positions during the preseason, will probably remain a starter. However, point guards Seth Allen and Pe’Shon Howard and shooting guard Logan Aronhalt could be vulnerable to reduced minutes.
The same is true of freshman small forward Jake Layman, since Maryland suddenly has the luxury of deploying three-guard sets more frequently with five credible guards on the roster.
“It’s just another element we have with Dez,” Howard said. “Our team’s really deep now and we’ll be able to explore more things. Coach can be more creative with what he wants to do on the court.”
Xavier expelled Wells in August for a “serious violation” of the school’s code of student conduct, though a Cincinnati grand jury rejected criminal sexual assault charges later that month. It led Wells on a whirlwind recruitment, and the Raleigh, N.C., native chose Maryland over Kentucky, Memphis and Oregon.
Turgeon told Wells when he visited College Park he was most likely to become immediately eligible if he came to Maryland, citing his faith in his administration. He couldn’t know for sure it would work out, but Wells ultimately got his wish with the Terps.
“I really didn’t have much to do with it besides I don’t like the word no and I don’t like to lose,” Turgeon said. “Those guys deserve all the credit. I thought Dez was great throughout the whole process. I thought he handled it very well and never got too high or too low.”
Typically, basketball players must sit out a full season after transferring, but Maryland applied for a waiver to the rule. The NCAA staff denied Wells’ request for immediate eligibility on Oct. 26, but the school pursued an appeal to the decision.
The Division I legislature council subcommittee for legislative relief overturned the initial ruling this week, and Turgeon learned the news at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
With the development, Wells can happily get on with his career. And Maryland, picked to finish sixth in the ACC, could find itself back in the NCAA tournament after a two-year hiatus thanks to the addition of the 6-foot-5, 215-pounder who will likely contribute immediately.
“He’s a major part of the game plan moving forward,” Turgeon said.
—- Patrick Stevens