When Dez Wells first heard the news that the NCAA would allow him to play this year for the Maryland Terrapins, his face lit up in a smile. As the news set in, Wells realized the importance of the NCAA's decision, and hugs and tears filled the room.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon explained that the scene in the room was emotional, and eventually those emotions turned into excitement.
"Obviously we're thrilled. We're thrilled for Dez," Turgeon said. The coach explained that he was very proud of the athletic administration at Maryland for continuing to fight for Wells, and that all parties involved -- coaches, players and administration -- worked hard to arrive at today's news.
"I believed in Dez and I believed in my administration," Turgeon said.
Wells transferred to Maryland this season after playing his freshman season at Xavier University. Typically a transfer player is forced to sit out a season, but Maryland requested that the rule be waived in Wells' case. Maryland was first denied that waiver, but the circumstances for Wells were unique. His expulsion from Xavier University amid sexual assault allegations had many question marks -- an Ohio grand jury decided not to press charges against Wells, and the Xavier administration was later admonished for their handling of the situation --and the Terps appealed the NCAA's initial decision.
"I wasn't surprised because I was in on the beginning of this," Turgeon said of the NCAA decision. "Once they had all the facts I wasn't surprised. I would have been surprised if it went the other way."
His comments were a far cry from some previous eligibility issues that former Maryland coach Gary Williams encountered. In those days, Williams and former athletic director Debbie Yow often bumped heads, and Williams did not always think he had the full support of the athleitc administration. Turgeon's experience sounded completely different from those days, and he personally thanked and saluted many of the athletic department staff who fought for Wells' eligibility.
Now that Wells is eligible, the Terps immediately improve on the court. Wells, a 6'5", 215 lb. slasher that averaged almost 10 points and five rebounds as a freshman, gives Turgeon depth and an explosive athlete.
"Dez is a good player," the coach said. He listed toughness and experience as two of Wells best qualities. In his freshman season at Xavier, Wells played on a team that went to Sweet 16. That experience gives other Maryland players confidence too, Turgeon explained.
"He understands what it takes," Turgeon said. "He helps us in a lot of ways. He gives every player more confidence."
Senior forward James Padgett echoed Turgeon's comments.
"He makes us a much better team," Padgett said. "We're all excited for him."
Now that Wells eligibility issue has been settled, Maryland must focus on its next challenge: the Kentucky Wildcats. Maryland faces No. 3 ranked Kentucky Friday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. It will be a big stage for many of Turgeon's young players.
"Our guys will be juiced up," Turgeon said, and he added a joke that the players won't know how to react when they see famous college basketball announcer Dick Vitale.
Despite any first game jitters, Wells makes the Terrapins a better team. Many pundits now project Maryland as an NCAA Tournament team with his addition. Even with the good news, Turgeon wanted to keep expectations in check.
"Let's be realistic here," Turgeon said when talking about Kentucky. Wildcats coach John Calipari assembled another top notch recuriting class, with many players expected to leave college early for the NBA. But regardless of the outcome from the Kentucky game, Turgeon has postseason expectations for the 2012-2013 Terps.
Turgeon said he does expect Maryland to be a good team this season, though when that will happen remains a question.
"Do I expect us to be a really good team at some point this year? Yes I do," he said. "I think our young kids will grow up quickly. I think we have great depth."
Wells is in great shape, Turgeon said, and though the coach would not comment on his starting five for Kentucky, most people around the Terps program expect Wells to start or get starter-type minutes.
With a nine or ten-man rotation that will lean heavily on freshmen and sophomores, the Terps may be a work in progress early in the season. But Turgeon and the players all seem confident that having Wells on the court will have a positive impact.
"This definitely gives us a chance to be a better team than we would have been without him," Turgeon said.