Dion Wiley's teammates were in class, a few maybe even still in bed, when the Maryland sophomore walked out of the empty locker room Friday morning ready for work.
A little more than 12 hours after the No. 8 Terps celebrated their biggest victory of the season — 74-68 over No. 3 Iowa at Xfinity Center — it was game time for Wiley, who is sitting out the season after tearing his meniscus in late October.
There was still a slight hitch to his gait, his right knee locked in a brace, as Wiley began what has recently become a five-day-a-week routine with Kyle Tarp, Maryland's director of basketball performance.
For more than an hour, Wiley followed Tarp's instructions as he went through a series of exercises designed to strengthen his surgically repaired knee while continuing to build muscle that had been lost or weight that had been gained through weeks of inactivity after the operation.
The more Tarp encouraged Wiley — "C'mon, Dion, grind," Tarp said as Wiley whipped the heavy battle ropes 10 times for 30 seconds a piece — the harder Wiley seemed to go.
That encouragement began back in mid-November, when Wiley was still on crutches. Tarp found exercises to keep Wiley engaged, including one that involved sitting on a box or a chair and shooting basketballs at a rim lowered to approximate what the 6-foot-4 shooting guard might see while playing on the court.
Assured that Wiley would make a complete recovery after having the meniscus sewn back together, Tarp said he has tried to challenge the 19-year-old as he did a 21-year Robert Carter Jr. last winter when the junior forward was sitting out after transferring from Georgia Tech.
"I think with any competitor, you want to be out there," said Tarp, a former college football player who is in his fifth season working with the men's team. "There are positives that come out of everything, if you find them. Sitting down and talking to Dion, this is an opportunity not just to get back to where you were, but we can use this as a time to get better."
Wiley said that his months of rehabilitation have set the foundation for when he is able to play again.
"Once I am cleared to play, it will be the hardest I'll ever work," he said. "I just look at it as motivation to get back to where I was before I got hurt."
Yet given what has transpired over the past few months, and the role Wiley is expected to fill when he returns next season to a team that could lose as many as five key players including point guard Melo Trimble, this might be the most important winter of his life.
"I think it's like a blessing in disguise," Wiley said. "The role I may play is based on whoever returns next year like Melo or Diamond [Stone], but I know I will play a big role next year. It gives me time to build my body up, lose weight, get my leg strong and become more athletic. That's how I look at it now."
In many ways, being reduced to the role of cheerleader and being "another coach on the bench" has been even more fun and satisfying to Wiley than playing was as a freshman. In his first season, an inconsistent work ethic led to sporadic court time and eventually to considerable frustration for the former four-star recruit.
"During the season last year, I didn't want to work out or I didn't feel like going to practice or something," he said. "Now, I'm anxious to [watch] practice and anxious to work out. It made me really miss the game more and made me really appreciate the stuff that comes with the game."
Wiley has gained a new appreciation of some of the team's less celebrated players, particularly walk-on point guard Varun Ram (River Hill).
"Coach [Mark] Turgeon always says Varun is one of our harder-working guys and maybe I will watch things that he does in practice," Wiley said. "Every time he goes to practice, he automatically goes hard. Everything goes full tilt.
"I noticed that when Coach Turgeon last year, when he told me I wasn't going as hard as I could, I thought I was but I wasn't doing it every possession. I thought he was just picking on me, but now I realize that he wasn't."
Trimble, who along with Wiley and sophomore wing Jared Nickens had the same initials "MBK" (My Brother's Keeper) etched into one of their biceps before their freshman year, said he has tried to keep Wiley thinking positively about the future.
"Pretty much next year is going to be his year to bounce back and show people that he can still play," Trimble said earlier this week. "Dion has a lot of confidence, and so does everyone else on the team in him. If sitting out this year makes him jealous, it will make him more hungry."
Turgeon has seen it before with injured players, particularly those who got by more on their physical skills as Wiley had done growing up.
"Sometimes when you're sitting out, you learn a little bit more," Turgeon said Friday. "He's learning a lot watching me coach, watching a guy like Rasheed [Sulaimon] play. Sometimes it's a blessing to play and then sit and watch and learn without being nervous or having all the pressure to perform."
As much as Turgeon has bemoaned not having much in terms of depth behind Trimble and Sulaimon this season, he understands that Wiley's individual development is equally important.
That is the main reason why Turgeon won't even consider using Wiley if he is fully recovered by mid-March, which is the timetable the injured guard has been given by his doctors.
"He played a lot as a freshman. He probably would've been a backup this year, obviously," Turgeon said. "He was a starter when he got hurt, but he probably would've been beat out [by Sulaimon]. He's got a chance to play major, major minutes, starting minutes for three years and have a great career. That's what we envisioned with Dion when we signed him and I think that he's approaching it that way."
Said Wiley, "I'm just preparing myself for next season, mentally and physically, too. I'm not coming back this year."
Turgeon and Tarp see a big difference in a player who saw his senior year at Potomac High in Prince George's County derailed by tendinitis in knees brought on largely by 25 extra pounds he put on and that he later shed before showing up at Maryland.
"It's evident with Dion that his maturity has improved," Tarp said. "It's in all facets of what he's doing. He had his best semester academically and it's just going into his whole life and how he's conducting himself. With him, that's a big deal. And I absolutely think it's going to help him going forward in the future of the program to become a leader of this team."
A year ago, an injury such as this might have permanently derailed Wiley's career, on and off the court. Not now.
Wiley said that in the days and weeks after undergoing surgery in Baltimore, he often heard from family members and friends who took the same approach in trying to pick up his spirits.
"The first thing out of everyone's mouth was, 'Now you can focus more on academics and make sure you get your academics straight,'" Wiley said. "A year ago, I wasn't disciplined enough or really mentally prepared enough for a situation like this.
"Last year my grades probably would have dropped if I had an injury, if I was out for the season. Based on my maturity through the summer, and my teammates helping push me through mentally, I was able to stay focused on school."
The reality is that the team Wiley will come back to next season will likely look much different. Sulaimon, Ram and senior forward Jake Layman will be gone, as might Trimble, Carter and Stone. Wiley is ready for whatever challenge comes next.
"I haven't really thought about [several players leaving]," he said. "I would love to play with Diamond and Melo again, but I can't tell the future. If they do decide to leave and I do come back and I'm 'the man,' then I guess I've got to take advantage of it."