The chants rang through Dez Wells’s ears last season, even if he pretended not to notice. “No means no,” the purple-clad students at Northwestern jeered. “No means no,” the Cameron Crazies shouted. A simple, three-word sentence, and a reminder of what Wells longed to forget.
He’ll likely hear more of the same this season, the ironic consequence of Wells’s lawsuit against Xavier University, which he filed to help repair what lawyer Peter R. Ginsberg called “a tainted reputation.” As evidence, the lawsuit cites the jeers from opposing fans, which likely will only widen the bull’s-eye on his back. Fans have more ammunition now. Pages upon pages, in fact.
Xavier expelled Wells in 2012 over sexual assault allegations that were later deemed unworthy of trial by a local prosecutor, and he wound up at Maryland. In his lawsuit, Wells wants an apology from Michael Graham, Xavier’s president, and monetary compensation for “personal suffering and reputational damage.”
Publicly, Xavier has stood by its judicial process, which Ginsberg calls rushed and flawed. Privately, several individuals familiar with similar legal proceedings speculate that Xavier will request a dismissal.
And at Comcast Center, as Wells prepares for a junior season that could usher him into the NBA draft conversation, everything proceeds business as usual. The Maryland men’s basketball team says Wells’s legal matter will not affect its on-court performance.
“Here’s the deal with Dez,” Coach Mark Turgeon said on Tuesday, his first public comments on the lawsuit since it was filed in late August. “When I decided to recruit Dez I was 100 percent behind Dez. I did a lot of homework. So I’m 100 percent behind in in what he’s doing. With that said, talking to his lawyers, it’s not supposed to interfere with us at all. I don’t plan on it interfering with us at all.”
Turgeon couched his support in acknowledging the national scope of Wells’s actions. Several former college students – notably Peter Yu (Vassar College) and Brian Harris (Saint Joseph’s University) – have sued their former schools over the past year, claiming unjust expulsion over sexual assault accusations. But for a current college athlete, especially one with as high a profile as Wells, to sue his former school three months before the season begins? Unprecedented.
And Turgeon knows this.
“I know it’s going to come up a lot,” he said. “Every TV game it’s going to come up. It’s not going to interfere with us. I think Dez is a strong-minded person enough to not let it affect.”
Surrounded by media members at Maryland’s media day this week, Wells gently shrugged off the lawsuit. He feels at ease, he said, more free and less stressed. He wants to become a better teammate and stronger leader, because if he wasn’t the face of the Terrapins last season, Wells most certainly is now.
“I feel like now, I can just relax,” he said. “That’s really all I can say. I feel more relaxed, at ease with stuff. I can’t really express tell you how much better it feels from a year ago.”
See, Wells spent months surrendering control, first to Xavier as the school’s judicial board decided his fate, then to the NCAA transfer waiver process, which initially deemed him ineligible before granting him immediate eligibility, two days before last season’s opener against Kentucky.
The lawsuit brings matters back into Wells’s hands. On his terms. On his timeline. Sure, he knows he’ll continue to face taunts. But he’s learned to brush them off, to ignore the heckling and go about his business (he is unlikely to miss any class or practice time because of the lawsuit).
“I’m a competitor,” he said. “Stuff off the court doesn’t affect me on the court. When I step in those four lines, I don’t care about what’s going on in my personal life. Those same problems or issues or whatever’s going on, it’s going to be there when I get off the court. All I care about is winning the game.
“Even way before I came here, the way that I did, I could play through anything. But being here, going through what I had to go through last year was great for me, it strengthened me as a person, as a man. It’s something I appreciate about the situation I went through. There’s not much to appreciate, but that’s something I appreciate.”