The University of Maryland men's basketball team received great news a few days in advance of the teams matchup against the University of Kentucky when the NCAA announced that sophomore transfer Dez Wells is immediately eligible to play.
Wells transferred to Maryland from Xavier University after being expelled following a sexual assault allegation. A grand jury declined to prosecute Wells on the charges amid controversy over how the school handled the allegations. When Wells decided to transfer from Xavier to Maryland, the Terps asked the NCAA to waive the mandatory one-year period where transfers can practice with the team but not play in games.
The NCAA initially denied the waiver request, but Maryland appealed that decision. After considering the appeal, the NCAA Division I Legislative Council Subcommittee for Legislative Relief decided to make Wells immediately eligible for competition.
“We’re excited for Dez because at the end of the day, the NCAA made the right decision,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said in a statement. “Our staff did an incredible job in putting this NCAA waiver appeal together on Dez’s behalf. Dez has been a welcomed addition, a great teammate, and has made a seamless transition in getting acclimated to our campus. This has been a long process for him and his family, and we’re grateful he can put it behind him and focus on being a student-athlete at the University of Maryland.”
The 6'5", 215 lb. Wells, who won Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year honors during his lone year at Xavier, will fill a critical role for the Terps as a scorer with explosive athletic ability. The announcement comes at a great time for Maryland, with the matchup against the defending champion Kentucky Wildcats coming on Friday night. Wells should be able to replace some of the scoring load left vacant with the departure of last year's leading scorer Terrell Stoglin, who left the program over the summer after a rules violation.
“We’re very happy for Dez as the NCAA legislative relief process provided him with complete and fair due process,” Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson said in a statement. “Our staff was personally invested in the NCAA waiver and appeal process because it was in the best interest of our student-athlete. We’re pleased that Dez will be able to move forward and experience all the opportunities that come with being a student-athlete at the University of Maryland.”
Wells, considered the highest-rated recruit in the history of the Xavier program, averaged just under 10 points a game as a freshman at Xavier. Once news broke that Wells would leave Xavier, the recruitment process began anew. Wells selected Maryland over Kentucky, among other elite college basketball programs. Maryland assistant coach Bino Ransom, who had a relationship with Wells from his days as an assistant coach at Xavier, was instrumental in bringing Wells to Maryland.
What remains to be seen is how Wells will fit into the Terps lineup. In the teams only action so far this season, an uninspired 73-61 exhibition win over Division II Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Maryland trotted out a starting lineup of Pe'Shon Howard, Nick Faust, Jake Layman, James Padgett and Alex Len. With Wells' talent and experience, he could immediately enter the starting lineup over the freshman Layman.
What Terp fans do know is that the Maryland team immediately improves with the addition of Wells, a player many scouts consider to be an eventual NBA player. Coach Turgeon now has even more depth and options on a team with an opportunity in an Atlantic Coast Conference that appears to be more open than in years past.
Some basketball pundits have said that with Wells Maryland becomes an NCAA tournament team with a chance at breaking into the Top 20. The Terps now have dynamic wing players with Faust, Wells and the freshman Layman.
The frontcourt, led by the 7-foot sophomore Len and supplemented by freshmen Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell, should see a little more room to operate from opposing defenses due to the speed and athleticism of Wells on the wing. Additionally, Maryland's shooters could be the recipients of collapsing defenses as Wells or Faust attack the rim, leaving open shots along the three-point line for Howard, Layman, or impressive freshman Seth Allen.
Wells also gives Turgeon another fast defender to apply pressure to the opposition. From any angle, the addition of Wells is a boost for the Terps.
The first test for Maryland will be a big one, playing No. 3 ranked Kentucky at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Friday night. By granting Wells immediate eligibility, that game suddenly becomes much more interesting.