One month after Andrew and Aaron Harrison broke the hearts of rabid hoops fans at the University of Maryland, NCAA officials, of all people, are lifting their spirits in College Park.
An NCAA subcommittee has approved an appeal from Xavier transfer Dez Wells that will allow the sophomore swingman to play immediately. The Washington Post first broke the news.
Wells, whom Xavier expelled amid flimsy sexual assault allegations that never made it to trial, transferred to Maryland in September in search of a fresh start. The NCAA had initially denied Wells’ waiver petitioning for immediate eligibility. The Terrapins subsequently filed an appeal, the subcommittee overturned the original ruling, and now the ACC’s most fearsome sleeping giant just got the caffeine jolt it needed to awake in time for the upcoming season.
When the Terps are dancing in March, they’ll have the oft-maligned NCAA subcommittee high atop their “people to thank” list.
With Wells in play, Maryland will field a team with all the ingredients to vie for a favorable seed in the Big Dance:
Young talent: Maryland’s freshman bunch is the program’s strongest incoming class since 2002, when the Terps fresh off a Final Four appearance in 2001 and eventual national championship the following season. Sam Cassell’s ineligibility hurts, but Mark Turgeon has plenty of supplementary talent to lessen the sting. Shaquille Cleare is one of the top freshman centers in the deepest class of pivots since the 90s. Jake Layman is a deadeye shooter with the size and length to be an above-average defensive asset as well. Seth Allen and Charles Mitchell, meanwhile, will lengthen a bench that was thin and largely unproductive last season. And don’t forget about returning sophomores Nick Faust and Alex Len. They were coy for the most part last season, but with a year under their belt and an expanded role in their future, could blossom into overnight sensations.
Veteran Leadership: Senior forward James Padgett, the team’s unsung handyman, avoided a suspension for driving under the influence, a charge which was later dropped to reckless driving. Extracurricular issues aside, Padgett will be counted upon to lead a relatively young Maryland team, especially if Pe’Shon Howard has to miss any time recovering from an ACL injury. Dez Wells is just a sophomore, but with what he’s been through on and off the court, don’t discount his value as a young leader on this squad.
Inside Presence: Ukrainian center Alex Len appears poised for a breakout sophomore season. The skilled 7-footer is one of the top center prospects in the ACC, a conference which has no shortage of capable big men. The luxury for Mark Turgeon this season: If Len is injured, mired in foul trouble or simply doesn’t pan out, Turgeon can turn to an equally promising pivot, appropriately named Shaq, on his bench.
Versatile, game-changing backcourt: Maryland can thank the newly eligible Dez Wells for this. The Terps backcourt situation appeared to be in trouble prior to today’s news. Scoring ace Terrell Stoglin and senior leader Sean Mosley are both gone, and with the status of Howard uncertain, only Nick Faust and Albany transfer Logan Aronhalt were ready to step up in the backcourt. With Wells in play, the Terps now have the needed firepower in the backcourt, and more importantly, depth at the guard position in case Howard cannot start on opening night.
Head Coaching: He turned Wichita State into a perennial contender in the Missouri Valley Conference. He made the tournament all four years at Texas A&M. He’s not shy to producing NBA-caliber talent. Mark Turgeon is the right man for the job at MD. The kicker? Though not the shrewd tactician Gary Williams was, Turgeon is the less selective, and therefore more successful, recruiter of the two.
There are still areas of concern in College Park keeping preseason hype in check: The overall youth of the team. How to replace the scoring of Terrell Stoglin and leadership of Sean Mosley. Perimeter shooting. Pe’Shon Howard’s health . Whether Alex Len does, in fact, emerge. Nick Faust’s scoring efficiency. What to expect from the freshmen, namely Cleare and Layman.
But these reservations—legitimate as they are—have been muted by the reemergence of the nation’s top college transfer. Dezmine Wells is in play, and for the first in three years, so too is the NCAA tournament for Maryland’s season outlook.