Dez Wells sat in the passenger seat of Kendrick Williams’s car, driving through his home town of Raleigh, N.C., last month. After 10 minutes of reflective silence, they pulled into a local gym. There, Wells talked with his mentor and former AAU coach about preparing for the next chapter and stowing away the past. They talked possible schools and itineraries. Then they picked up a basketball and went to work.
Wells, who started 32 games as a freshman for the Xavier men’s basketball team last season, is turning the page. Only weeks after being expelled from the Cincinnati school amid sexual assault allegations that were deemed unworthy of prosecution by an Ohio grand jury, Wells announced his intention to enroll at Maryland on Tuesday.
“The last couple of weeks have been the toughest time in my life for my family and I,” Wells wrote on his Twitter account. “I’ve learned that it is a major responsibility that comes with being a student athlete at all times. I’m thankful that God has blessed me with a second opportunity to continue my education.”
Wells’s eligibility for the 2012-13 season, however, remains in flux, as college transfers usually have to sit out a year. John Infante, curator of the Bylaw Blog and a former NCAA compliance officer, told The Post that Maryland must file a request for an exemption on Wells’s behalf to the NCAA — citing the extenuating circumstances of his departure from Xavier — in order for him to play this season.
“The compliance office will gather up the documents, get a statement from him, try and get Xavier to support the waiver, then they file that with the NCAA,” Infante said in an e-mail. “Once you have all the documents in place, it typically takes about three weeks to get a decision.”
Maryland has yet to make an official announcement on Wells.
Before choosing Maryland, Wells visited Kentucky, Memphis and Oregon. Louisville showed interest, but was unable to provide a scholarship, and Ohio State canceled its scheduled visit. The D.C. area, however, provided a much-desired glimpse of home.
Wells grew up in Raleigh with Terrapins football players Demetrius Hartsfield and Nigel King. They hung out Saturday after Maryland’s season-opening win over William & Mary. Redskins wide receiver Brandon Banks is from the area, and Washington Wizards guard John Wall was a high school teammate at Word of God Academy.
And so a dizzying cross-country itinerary gave way to collegiate clarity. Wells returned to Raleigh and discussed the decision with his mother and sister. Hours later, he made the announcement.
“Will it be easy?” asked Williams, who has coached Wells since he was 11 years old. “I know him like a book. Once he gets all that done, enrolling in class, getting on campus, getting acclimated to his new setting, that adaptation will come quickly.
“My biggest concern is his happiness and him being able to get back on track in fulfilling his life and dreams.”
Xavier expelled Wells for a “serious violation of the Code of Student Conduct,” though a Hamilton (Ohio) County grand jury declined to pursue charges. The case’s prosecutor questioned the university’s decision to expel Wells, calling the school’s judicial process “seriously flawed.”
“I think everybody deserves a second chance,” Hartsfield said Tuesday. “I think he’s definitely a good person. If he gets a second chance, which he has, he’s going to show everybody that he deserves it.”
The most important thing, Williams said, will be getting the 6-foot-5 guard/forward back into the gym. He averaged 9.8 points and 4.9 rebounds per game and was an Atlantic 10 all-rookie selection for the Musketeers, who reached the NCAA Sweet 16 last spring.
From a chubby, 5-3 11-year-old to, as Williams described him, a “chiseled Greek God,” Wells has always found a home on the hardwood.
On that first day home from Xavier, following those 10 minutes of agonizing silence, Williams and Wells worked out for an hour. Thinking he had worn down his protege in the weight room, Williams challenged Wells to a game of one-on-one. Huge mistake. The entire game, Wells kept telling his mentor, “You cannot handle this NBA body.” And for the next 48 hours, Williams found solace in Tylenol and Ibuprofen.