The Maryland basketball team gathered around Dez Wells and listened to him yell, because even in this hectic moment those words provided comfort. Nine days before the season opener, when starting point guard Seth Allen broke his left foot during practice, Wells knew the task that now stood before him. So the junior, the unquestioned voice on the floor and in the locker room, circled the Terrapins together and lit the beacon. And when Wells speaks, everyone listens.
“’I’m the point guard,’” forward Charles Mitchell recalled Wells barking. “’This is me now. Just follow me. I’m going to be your leader.’”
Allen’s injury, which required surgery and will sideline the sophomore until early January, created a thorny situation in College Park. Here stood Maryland, a new season soon dawning, with its floor general suddenly gone. Freshman Roddy Peters began the preseason as Allen’s backup, but scrimmage struggles made Coach Mark Turgeon seek alternatives. But before the third-year coach could ask, or even could make a decision, Wells did everything for him.
“For him to run the point, it’s kind of a natural for him,” Turgeon said.
On Sunday, Wells will start during an afternoon exhibition against Catholic University. Turgeon declined to commit beyond that, but his words Friday all but cemented the team’s future, at least until Allen returns. He simplified Maryland’s offense, began playing Peters more at shooting guard and hustled Wells beneath an even bigger spotlight.
“We believe in Dez 100 percent,” Mitchell said. “We know he’s going to run the team. He’s our leader off and on the court. He’s going to be our floor general. We have his back. We’re not worried. It’s going to be good.”
This experience is nothing new. Wells played point guard growing up in Raleigh, both in high school and on the AAU circuit with the Chris Paul All-Stars. Last season, when turnover troubles forced Turgeon to rotate four players through the lead spot, Wells saw playing time.
Particularly when Wells grew frustrated at Maryland’s struggles, he would often grab the ball, flash a glance to Turgeon and the bench, and declare himself the point guard for that particular play. It’s that same persona that gives the Terps confidence in turning their most devastating wing slasher into the offense’s captain.
“It’s just natural,” Wells said. “Just want to settle things down. I kind of have the alpha male mentality or attitude. When things aren’t going right, I try to grab control of things, settle things down, or look to coach. Last year we had younger guys. Sometimes they’d go a little wild. Even me. I would always grab the ball, say go ahead, look to coach, ask what he wants us to run.”
The simplified offense – Turgeon wouldn’t get into specifics – should help Wells curb the turnover issues that plagued him last season. Besides, Wells hates watching film of his successes, of which there were plenty. He studies only the failures, like many of his 109 giveaways.
The Terps still need Wells to score in bunches, and moving him to point guard could create matchup nightmares for opposing small men forced to body up Maryland’s strongest bulldozer. Turgeon says his court vision and decision making has improved too, so sticking the ball into his hands seemed only natural.
“Even when I was playing off the ball, I would help Seth whenever he was having problems with it,” Wells said. “I always go talk to coach, because he was such a good point guard. I’m a student of the game. Whenever I can pick somebody’s brain about what I can do to be better, or to help somebody else to get better, or to help myself. I think about basketball all day, I watch basketball all day.”
On Thursday night, rap artist Drake played the Verizon Center in Washington D.C., with Wells watching from the stands, a concert he later regretted attending. The reason? Across the country, Paul exploded for 42 points and 15 assists against the Golden State Warriors, and Wells wanted to watch on television.
Hours later, early Friday morning, Wells arrived at Comcast Center to start shooting around 6 a.m., because an “influential” mentor told him to face this new challenge as an opportunity, not an obstacle. Wells declined to name the mentor, whom he called up for point guard advice, but said he lives in Los Angeles. It was, with little doubt, Chris Paul.