Dez Wells might not be at the top of many draft boards, but he's still looking to make an impact in the NBA.
Wells just wrapped a sensational senior season at Maryland, earning First Team All-Big Ten honors after serving as the most valuable player on a Terps team that finished second in the Big Ten and made the program's first NCAA tournament in five years.
Though Wells might not elicit "oohs" and "ahs" with his size, his measurements or his projectability, there's something to be said for coming through in the clutch. Look back at the do-it-all player who put the Terps on his back time after time after time during last season. Maryland was one of the best teams in the country for much of the year, and it had Wells' big performances in the biggest moments to thank for that.
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Dec. 30. After missing seven non-conference games with a hand injury, Wells was playing in just his second game back: Maryland's Big Ten opener at Michigan State. That's no easy opponent — the Spartans, you might recall, went to the Final Four — in no easy venue. But it was Wells' star that shone brightest that day. He knocked down a huge 3-pointer at the end of regulation to force overtime. He knocked down a pair of foul shots to tie the game again and send things into a second overtime. He hit a go-ahead free throw and delivered a dagger of a fastbreak dunk to send the Terps to an incredible win in the program's Big Ten debut.
“You have to give Dez Wells credit,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said after that game. “He missed a month. I don't know what he did, but it was a hand injury. You have to give him a lot of credit. I love guys that are warriors. He's diving on the floor with a broken wrist. A broken wrist on his right hand, and he makes the big 3. My hat goes off to him. I was really impressed by how hard he played, how much he played, and he's got some dog in him. That's as good a compliment as I can give a guy.”
Jan. 25. Wells scored 17 points against Northwestern, but it was how that game finished that tells you what you need to know about Wells. The Wildcats had a 14-point second-half lead, a lead still at 11 with a little more than four minutes to play. Wells figured huge in a remarkable Terps comeback, scoring eight of his team's final 18 points. Wells made the play of the game, too, following up Melo Trimble's failed game-winning 3-point attempt at the buzzer with an offensive rebound and putback to give the Terps an improbable comeback win before the horn sounded.
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Feb. 24. Wells saved his best performance for Maryland's biggest win of the season, a takedown of fifth-ranked Wisconsin in College Park. Wells scored 26 points, grabbed seven rebounds, handed out four assists and did just about everything to power the Terps to an incredible win over the Badgers, who ended up reaching the national title game and figure to see a pair of players picked in the top half of the draft's first round. Wells broke a 47-all second-half tie with four straight free throws and a big-time dunk and helped secure the upset with a big block. Wells showed what type of play he can turn in not only when he's firing on all cylinders but when he's playing with ultimate intensity.
"I think I can come in and provide great energy, be a great defender and be somebody that's a great team player who can be an efficient scorer and can just be one of those guys that has a lot of grit and plays hard nosed each and every game," Wells said at the NBA Draft Combine when asked what he can bring to an NBA team.
When next season rolls around, Wells won't be there to once again lead the Terps to the top of the college basketball mountain. His eligibility has been exhausted. Many believe the Terps will get there without him, though, as Wells' co-stars Trimble and Jake Layman have pledged their returns for another season and Duke transfer Rasheed Sulaimon and five-star recruit Diamond Stone have joined the ranks.
But Wells still has sage advice for his now former teammates.
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"They have to get their chemistry right first before they can consider themselves a top team," Wells said. "That's just all potential, what they think they can do. So once they come in and build a relationship with each other, go through the grinf with each other ... then I think that they'll be special."
Wells did more than enough to establish himself as one of the Big Ten's best last season. That, of course, doesn't mean he gets his ticket to the NBA punched. Many think he won't hear his name called on draft night.
But that's not stopping him from doing what he did during his senior season: giving it his all. Wells is out to prove that he belongs at the next level. He did a good deal of that in a Terps uniform. Now he's out to do some more.
"I just have to go out there and compete each and every day while I'm here and at all of the workouts," Wells said. "I think I have a great chance of doing something special."