As Dez Wells navigated through the NCAA’s lengthy appeals process, the prospect of gaining immediate eligibility seemingly growing as the days passed, the Maryland basketball team’s sophomore swingman kept calling his biggest motivator and critic to keep him grounded: his mother.
“I’m trying to keep him upbeat and everything,” Pamela Wells said Wednesday evening in a telephone interview. “He’s been pretty humble about the whole thing. It really made him mature a little faster than guys normally mature. I think it really opened his eyes to see what could really take away all that you work hard for. It’s been on my shoulders.”
Like her son, Pamela Wells grew emotional when she heard the news Wednesday morning that the NCAA will allow Dez to play immediately after transferring from Xavier, shedding a few tears hundreds of miles away. Her Raleigh, N.C., home doesn’t get great cellphone reception, so she had Dez text her instead. “Mom, I can play,” he wrote. “Are you serious?” she responded. “Yeah.”
“So I went on Twitter,” Pamela Wells later said, “and that’s all I needed to see.”
She saw “Dez Wells” become a nationally trending topic. Now neither mother nor son can stop smiling at the NCAA’s ruling, which will allow Wells to forgo the standard year-long ineligibility after he transferred from Xavier in early September. Pamela, a former all-American basketball player at St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh, raised Dez to be a man of his word, so as her son went through the appeals process, she found herself repeating that basic guiding principle.
“You have to stay focused. That’s the biggest thing, stay focused on your goals,” she said. “It was just the weight that really got to me. It was the weight, but I kept the faith. I was told they worked hard, they would try to make it right, try to get him to play. I was told that they would put forth an effort to try to do the appeals and whatever they were doing. I was basically in the dark. I didn’t really know what happened. That’s how I wanted it to be. I got little bits and pieces, but I really tried to stay out of it. That was Dez’s fight. That wasn’t my fight.”
Those who fought – Pamela Wells gave a special thanks to “her people,” meaning Coach Mark Turgeon, his assistants and Maryland’s compliance officers – wound up on the winning end when Turgeon received the good news from Indianapolis by phone at 8:30 a.m.
Turgeon called Wells into his office and relayed the decision two hours later. After a round of hugs, Wells called his mother. Once they finally worked around the bad cellphone reception, she heard a “cheering voice,” an excitement not heard since Wells committed to Maryland in September.
“It was affecting him a lot, but one thing with Dez, it’s not the end of the world,” she said. “It wasn’t like it was the end of the world for him. He was in school. That’s what mattered to him. As a part of being in school, he wanted to play ball. Until he found out that he can play, he kind of picked himself up. He wasn’t down in the dumps, no. A lot of his peers kept him up also.”
When Wells hits the parquet floor at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Friday night for Maryland’s season opener against Kentucky, his mother will be watching from her home.
She’s had the DVR set to record the game for the past two weeks, but decided against attending in person. The moment, she said, might get too emotional. So she’ll ride it out from the couch, behind closed doors in the house where Dez Wells was raised to never lose faith.