Dez Wells and John Wall are close friends. They have known each other since they were children growing up in Raleigh, eating meals and sleeping over at each other’s houses. They were star teammates at Word of God Academy for three seasons before Wall left for Kentucky and years later Wall remains a “big brother” for Wells, a real-life example that his dream of reaching the NBA is possible.
Yet while basketball links the two men, the sport is rarely broached when they connect. So as Wells, a former Maryland star, tours the country auditioning for NBA teams, hoping to impress one enough to hear his name called during the June 25 draft, Wall, the top pick in 2010, hasn’t offered any inside tips on the exhausting process. They haven’t discussed the possibility of being teammates once again, this time as professionals with the Washington Wizards. Wall simply has told Wells to make the right plays and that it will all work out in the end.
“That’s not really the dynamic of our relationship,” said Wells, 23, after working out for the Wizards at Verizon Center Thursday. “We don’t like talking basketball to each other because we get enough of that from you guys and from everyone else who doesn’t really know us that well so when we see each other we just sit down and catch up and laugh and joke about the fun times we had in high school and the different ideas and things we want to do in the future and continue to push ourselves throughout our lives. So that’s really what we do.”
The brawny 6-foot-4 Wells averaged 15.1 points and led Maryland to its first NCAA tournament in five years his senior season to cap off a collegiate career that began at Xavier. But unlike Wall, Wells is not a blue-chip prospect. While Wall went No. 1 after one season at Kentucky, Wells is projected to either land in the second round or go undrafted.
One of the Washington’s top priorities this offseason is adding player of Wells’s ilk. The Wizards finished the season without a conventional backup shooting guard and could use some scoring punch off the bench. UNLV’s Rashad Vaughn, one of the six other players to work out for the Wizards on Thursday, is another possibility to fill the void. Vaughn, 18, is the second-youngest draft-eligible player, averaged 18.3 points in his only collegiate season, and has emerged as a projected late first-round selection.
Arizona forward Brandon Ashley, Iona forward David Laury, UC Davis guard Corey Hawkins, Serbian guard Nikola Radicevic, and Howard guard James Carlton also participated in Thursday’s session, though Radicevic was limited to individual drills because of a hip injury.
“I think they’re starting to see I can really shoot the ball,” Vaughn said. “A lot teams didn’t really think I was athletic, and I’m starting to show that. Starting to show I can make plays for my teammates. Defend well. I think that’s why I’m moving up.”
Wells believes his strengths lie in his athleticism, strength, and driving ability. He explained teams have told him he’s different than what they expect from film, that he is quicker and slimmer than they anticipate. But he is also honest about his shortcomings. He admits ball handling and decision-making are areas he needs to improve. Though he made 51 percent of his three-point attempts for the Terps last season, Wells, who projects as a two-guard in the NBA, said he has further improved his outside shooting.
“I definitely had to work on some mechanics in my shot,” Wells said. “But all that is just repetition. So I feel more confident in my shot and I feel as confident as I’ve ever been in my game so far so it’s a dream come true and I’m just living in the moment.”
Thursday was Wells’s eighth pre-draft workout. He has three more scheduled for next week: the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, and Detroit Pistons.
“The best thing that has happened to me is success leaves footprints,” Wells said. “So just watching the things John did when he was playing in high school and middle school and things like that, I just kept dreaming, I just kept working on my game and he kept giving me motivation by what he did on the court and it just rubbed off on me, his work ethic and competitive spirit.”