COLLEGE PARK — Maryland guard Dez Wells first met Chris Paul during an Amateur Athletic Union tournament at the University of North Carolina five years ago.
Wells, who was playing in the tournament for a Raleigh-based team, was going into his senior year of high school. Paul was with the New Orleans Hornets and sponsoring the CP3 All-Stars based in his hometown of Winston-Salem.
"Later that summer I went to his camp, and I think I did pretty good. He just started talking to me and he said if I needed anything to call him," Wells said after a workout last week at Comcast Center. "I've always called him for advice whenever I can get a hold of him. ... [The summer after high school] when I went down to his camp, he invited me to come down and work out with him and I did that."
Wells has been going back every summer since, and he is spending part of this week in Winston-Salem working out with Paul, now an All-NBA guard for the Los Angeles Clippers. The lessons could help Wells develop the necessary skills to carve out an NBA career of his own, but Wells pointed out that Paul has become more than just a mentor on the court.
"More of a big brother-little brother thing," Wells said.
Heading into his senior year, Wells now has an opportunity to play a big brother role as freshman point guard Melo Trimble, a McDonald's All-American from Bishop O'Connell High in Virginia, makes his own transition to college.
Wells has been impressed by what he's seen during practice sessions and various pickup games over the past two months.
"The freshmen and other new guys [transfers Richaud Pack and Robert Carter Jr.] have bought into the team, and they just love to play basketball," Wells said. "They have no egos — they just want to go out there and play and win."
Wells — the Terps' leading scorer the past two seasons and their most dynamic player since transferring from Xavier as a sophomore — will start on the wing this season, but he should also see time at the point behind Trimble.
Last year, Wells was forced into emergency point guard duty when starter Seth Allen broke his left foot a week before the season opener against Connecticut in Brooklyn, N.Y.
With then-freshman Roddy Peters and a former walk-on, Varun Ram, as the only other point guards on the roster, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon turned to Wells. The experiment didn't last long.
Wells seemed to have trouble running the team and scoring at the same time. He quickly went back to shooting guard as Turgeon turned briefly to Ram and then to Peters before Allen returned from his injury in early January.
With Allen and Peters among the five players who transferred from the program after the season, Trimble is expected to be handed the reins to run the team this season. Pack, a senior who transferred from North Carolina A&T, will also play the point. But Wells said he's ready if called upon to play the position for stretches.
"This season I feel a little be more comfortable, because I've been able to practice at point guard a little more," he said. "I've been putting up more shots from the point guard position and finding ways to score and impact the game from that position. At this point, I feel a lot better about playing the point than when Seth got hurt last year."
In order to fulfill his dream of playing in the NBA, the 6-foot-5 Wells needs to show pro scouts that he is capable of playing point guard. Few doubt his athletic ability, but his range, ballhandling and decision-making have been questioned at times.
Wells is a 50.5 percent shooter from the field for his career and shot 81.7 percent on free throws as a junior. But he shot a career-low 30.7 percent on 3-pointers last season and committed more turnovers (2.5 per game) than assists (2.2).
"He's got to be able to really see the court and deliver a basketball, and that's not something Dez has proven that he can do yet," said an NBA scout, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The scout has seen Wells play in person several times and, while noting that Wells is a very good college player, questioned what "he does at an NBA level."
Asked what improvements he needs to make from last season, Wells said: "I need to rebound better [4.3 per game last season], make better decisions and dominate more on the defensive end."
Turgeon said that he expects Wells to be a "terrific point guard next year, that may be his NBA position" — but the fourth-year coach still needs Wells "to score a lot for us" this season.
To take advantage of Wells' strength, Turgeon used him to post up smaller guards toward the end of last season. Regardless of where he is on the court, "when the games are on the line, it'll be to be in Dez' hands a lot," Turgeon said.
Sort of like it is with Paul and the Clippers.
Wells treasures his relationship with a point guard many consider among the best in the world.
"The only way I can really describe it is a blessing, to have somebody who can help me help myself," Wells said. "He doesn't have all the answers; he doesn't come off like he does. He just always wants to help me.
"He's a student of the game, and he's at the point where he wants to give knowledge back to the younger guys coming up with aspirations of doing some of the same things he can do."
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