- The Washington Times - Monday, March 23, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Dez Wells wasn’t immediately aware his collegiate career had come to an end when he fouled out of Maryland’s game against West Virginia on Sunday night.

After being whistled near half court with 44.7 seconds remaining, Wells, the Terrapins’ senior guard, wandered toward his own basket, lining up as West Virginia guard Gary Browne approached the free-throw line. Only when Wells heard the substitution horn, glanced toward the bench and saw Richaud Pack stand up did Wells piece it all together.

“It’s going to be tough, man,” Wells said later, following the 69-59, season-ending NCAA tournament loss. “I’m not going to get these memories back, or these moments back, with these guys. But it was a great ride. It was fun.”

There is no doubt that Wells has helped change the slumping Terrapins’ fortunes. He finished his career 19th on the all-time scoring list, having amassed 1,398 points over 98 games, and was Maryland’s unquestioned leader — especially this past offseason, when the program again appeared in flux following the decisions of five players to transfer.

“He put Maryland back on the map,” said Mark Turgeon, in his fourth year as Maryland’s coach. “We’d been off the map for five years. Dez put us back on the map with his leadership, his competitive spirit.”

Wells arrived at Maryland under uncertain circumstances three years ago, when he was expelled from Xavier after his freshman season amidst sexual assault allegations. The accuser, a student at Xavier, declined to press charges against Wells, and a grand jury declined to indict him after hearing evidence. Wells later filed a lawsuit against the university, settling the matter after he transferred to Maryland.

The Atlantic 10 freshman of the year during that 2011-12 season at Xavier, Wells started all 32 games for the Musketeers and averaged 9.8 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. His arrival at Maryland the following season, when the NCAA ruled he was not subject to the one-year transfer regulations and could play immediately, was seen as a coup for Turgeon as the coach entered his second season.

The Terrapins went 25-13 that season and reached the semifinals of the NIT thanks in part to Wells, who started all but one of the Terrapins’ 38 games and had 13.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and three assists per game. Last year, with Maryland on the cusp of a return to being a dominant program, Wells averaged 14.9 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, taking on a greater role as a scorer with few other options on the team — but the Terrapins finished 17-15, losing in their first ACC tournament game and missing the national tournaments altogether.

This season, though, was different. The steady trickle that led five players to different schools throughout the spring and summer weighed heavily upon Wells, who couldn’t understand why his teammates were so eager to leave Maryland. Turgeon has repeatedly declined to address the circumstances of the players’ departures, and those around the team frequently characterized the matter as mere differences of opinion.

Amid the chaos, teammates said Wells played a large role in keeping the core of the group together with a positive outlook and a commitment to improvement. Picked to finish 10th of 14 teams in their first season in the Big Ten, Wells used that perceived slight as motivation — and it paid off. The team not only returned to the national rankings after a five-year hiatus, it cracked the top 10 for the first time since the 2002-03 season, the year after it won the national championship.

Maryland won a school-record 26 regular-season games, including their last seven, to earn the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten tournament. Wells was a large part of that late-season success, averaging 17.9 points and 5.9 rebounds during that stretch, and was rewarded with a selection to the Big Ten coaches’ first team.

“I’m a firm believer that people leave certain situations because they’re not meant to be there, and what God takes away from you, He’s going to provide you with something better,” Wells said. “I guess I saw this [outcome as a possibility], but I knew that I was going to do whatever it took to get us to this point. You know, these guys bought into what Coach Turgeon wanted us to do, and I’m just happy to be a part of this group.”

Wells formed a bond with Trimble, the highly regarded freshman who took over as Maryland’s staring point guard from the minute the team opened practice in October. They formed a potent one-two tandem on offense that Maryland hasn’t had in over a decade, since Steve Blake and Drew Nichols in 2002-03, and the mentorship Wells provided will be valuable for Trimble in coming years.

As for Wells, what lies in his future is unclear. If he were to fit in the NBA — which is far from a guarantee — he’d have to do so as a slashing two-guard, with his ball-handling making him an ill fit to run an offense and his 6-foot-4, 213-pound frame perhaps too slight to allow him to continue in his slash-forward role.

That’s why, on Sunday night, as the seconds ticked down on Maryland’s season, Wells tried to take it all in. A participant at the NCAA tournament at Xavier, Wells had become the player that underclassmen asked for advice about the postseason experience — the wise old man on the team. When he retreated to the bench, the Maryland fans clustered in sections 104 and 105 gave him a standing ovation, and he shared a brief, emotional moment with assistant coach Cliff Warren before turning back toward the court, his hands on his hips.

“I told him, I never played with a guy who has as much heart as him — the leadership he showed from the first day I got here, the way he accepted me and embraced me and put the team on his back this whole year,” said Pack, who joined the team this season after graduating and transferring from North Carolina A&T. “I’ve never played with a guy like him.”


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