After Redemptive Week, Dez Wells is “Happiest I’ve Been My Whole Life”Posted by IRenko on December 4th, 2012
I. Renko is a DC-based correspondent for Rush the Court. You can follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops. He filed this report after Sunday’s game between Maryland and George Mason in the BB&T Classic.
It was almost one year ago when Dez Wells, then a freshman at Xavier, had a starring role in one of college basketball’s ugliest scenes. Wells precipitated the now infamous brawl between Xavier and Cincinnati with a two-handed push of Cincy’s Ge’Lawn Guyn. He would promptly compound his mistake by charging the Cincinnati bench to throw some punches. The ensuing four-game suspension was a black mark on Wells’ promising freshman year, but actually paled in comparison to what followed after the season. In August, Xavier expelled Wells from the university for an alleged sexual assault. While a grand jury would later decline to indict him, by any stretch, the past year was a trying period for the 6’5″ swingman from Raleigh.
Yet on Sunday afternoon after leading his new school, Maryland, to a 69-62 win over George Mason in the BB&T Classic, Wells declared that he is “probably the happiest I’ve been my life.” After the week he’s had, perhaps it’s not hard to see why. Over the past week, Wells set his career high in points not once, but twice, first scoring 23 points in a win at Northwestern in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, then 24 points in the win over Mason. Over the two games, Wells shot 20-of-28 from the field and scored 1.7 points per shot. And as his coach Mark Turgeon emphasized after the game in praising Wells’ “great week,” it isn’t just his offense that’s been clicking: “More importantly, I thought he defended well and rebounded better than he had.”
Wells’ standout week capped a three-month period of redemption that began when he decided to transfer to Maryland a few weeks after his expulsion from Xavier. Then in early November, an NCAA appeals committee ruled that Wells could play for the Terps immediately. And after a productive if uneven start to the season, Wells has come into his own over the past two games, establishing himself as an indispensable player, who, along with classmate Alex Len, gives the Terps the scoring punch they’ll need to compete in the ACC and earn an NCAA Tournament bid.
“A week ago Saturday, against Georgia Southern, he was about as bad as he can be,” Turgeon said on Sunday. “He flipped the switch and just got real aggressive.” Aggression — if properly channeled — is a boon to Wells’ game because he has great physical strength and toughness. He is at his best attacking the basket and, as he showed repeatedly against Mason, he has a gift for finishing through contact. Wells’ style of play, which also makes him a strong defender and rebounder, is somewhat of a rarity for a high-scoring perimeter player in today’s college basketball. Of the 20 field goals that he made over the past week, only two were from three-point range while 16 were classified as layups.
Wells credits his physical style to the one-on-one battles that he used to have with his mother, a former All-American at Division II St. Augustine’s College: “I didn’t beat her until I was 12 or 13. She always used to block my shot. I guess that’s just how I learned to finish through contact and around taller people. The way that I play and everything that I do is a reflection of how great my mom is as a person and a basketball player.” His mother was not the only person whom Wells was intent on crediting after the game. He repeatedly declined to accept personal praise for his stellar week, instead turning every question into an opportunity to laud his coaches and teammates for easing his transition and putting him in a position to succeed. “They welcomed me with open arms when I first got here. I couldn’t have done any of this without [my teammates] or any of my coaches. They’ve done a great job helping me and bringing me along with everything that’s happened to me. They’ve just been here like a family. We’re just getting closer every game.”
Wells has more work to do to become a complete player for the Terps. For example, as he and Turgeon both noted after the game with a wry smile, he’s on his way to setting a Maryland record for turnovers. “I have to calm down with that,” Wells conceded. But after his tumultuous first year, if the most that Wells has to worry about is his ball control, then it’s not hard to see why he’s so happy.