"My biggest fear was for his public image because he wasn't even [a year] removed from the brawl," Williams said. "He knew it would be hard for the public to believe him."

Maryland career begins

Wells, who at 6 feet 5 can play guard or forward, was subpar in his Maryland debut against Kentucky (eight points on 2-for-12 shooting). He had learned just two days before that — based on the unusual circumstances of his Xavier dismissal — he would receive a waiver from transfer rules and be eligible to play. Wells had also considered transferring to Kentucky, among other schools. He had friends at Maryland and believed in the coaching staff.

As the Maryland-Kentucky game arrived, Wells couldn't help but reflect on how he had survived such a trying year and was returning to his sanctuary — a basketball court. He calls Maryland his "home away from home."

When Wells embraced Turgeon before the nationally televised game, the coach "was just telling me, 'Calm down, collect your emotions and just play basketball.' That's probably the most emotion Coach Turgeon will ever see out of me besides playing basketball," Wells said.

Wells is clearly Maryland's toughest player — the one best able and most willing to take big shots on the road.

"He's a talent. I think he's going to be a special player," ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale said.

Wells has struggled occasionally after losses. He sometimes talks in a monotone and wears a faraway look, as if replaying defeats in his head. "Hates to lose," Turgeon said of Wells.

After a seven-point loss at Miami in January, Wells brooded over his two charging fouls and talked about needing to "look in the mirror" to see whether there was more he could do for the team.

Wells' best games have come away from Comcast Center, including 23 points both at Northwestern and at Wake Forest and 25 points against George Mason at Verizon Center.

At Northwestern's Welsh-Ryan Arena, Wells smiled when a reporter asked him after a Maryland victory about fans who had directed "No means no" chants at him.

After all he has endured in his college career, being heckled by fans doesn't rattle Wells.

"You have to embrace the hate that you get on the road," he said.

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

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