COLLEGE PARK — Dez Wells and LeVelle Moton are not blood relatives, though the Maryland junior guard calls the North Carolina Central basketball coach "my uncle."
They were planning to have dinner Monday night along with Wells’ mother, Pam, and Moton’s wife, Bridget, after Moton’s team practiced at Comcast Center in preparation for Tuesday's game against the Terps.
“After we have dinner, then we can become competitive monsters until after the game,” Moton said Monday.
In retrospect, Moton said he regrets scheduling the Terps. It’s not that his 7-3 team doesn’t have a chance against Maryland (8-5), having already beaten North Carolina State this season.
“As I think about it, it was a stupid thing for me to schedule them,” Moton said. “Number one, they’re good. Number two, it’s kind of like that science fair project where it's not due until the next semester, so you never think it’s going to come around.
“Then a week before it’s due, the emotions go into and it becomes, ‘What did I sign up for? I’m not equipped for this.' It kind of hit home when we were going over the scouting report and I had to talk to my team about him. It was just weird.”
Moton’s relationship with Wells’ family began before the Maryland player was born. It started when Moton was growing up in the Lane Street projects in Raleigh, N.C., and was frequently going into a convenience store that Pam Wells, Dez's mother, owned.
“I needed a pregame meal before I played basketball,” Moton, now 39, recalled. “Some kids would eat pasta, all I needed was three Now and Later [candies] and I could go all day.”
Admittedly, Moton did not always buy the candy. After catching Moton and some of his friends with their pockets filled, the woman he came to know as “PeeWee” would take whatever money Moton had and cover the difference.
“I would just be hard-pressed to come up with some money because we were poor,” Moton said. “My friends and I might have 15 cents among five of us and I would give her a dime. She took a special liking to me and she would also give me advice when I left the store. She had a genuine concern for me and I became like her nephew.”
Moton went on to become a local high school basketball star and eventually made his way to North Carolina Central, where he graduated as the school’s third all-time leading scorer and earned the nickname “Poetry 'n Moton.”
Just as Pam Wells, who starred locally in basketball at St. Augustine's University in Raleigh, took an interest in Moton as he grew up, Moton took Wells’ only son under his wing.
“He’s been a great mentor and father figure for me," Wells said. "He’s basically been there for me since Day One. If I ever needed anything or even just adjusting to the college game, he’s been vital for me. Words can’t express how much he means to me as a father figure and just as a positive male role model in my life.”
Said Moton: “He and I became really, really close. There’s a trust factor. He really trusts me because he knows I don’t want anything from him. I’m just going to give him the best advice about life. I don’t care about basketball. I just want to make sure the kid gets a degree.”
Moton was a trusted adviser when Wells was expelled from Xavier after his freshman year, accused of sexually assaulting a female student. Local prosecutors never charged Wells, who later sued the university and its president. The suit is currently in litigation.
“That was crazy, on so many levels. It’s hard to find the adjectives to describe it,” Moton said. “Here was a kid who was facing jail time who’s a beautiful, incredible kid. If my daughter sees him, she goes crazy. She loves Dez. He was caught in an unfortunate situation.
“My main concern was the embarrassment and the shame that came along with it because his mom worked so hard to raise her kids appropriately with the right values. I know the power of the media and the social network. What you read is what you tend to believe.”
Moton acted as an intermediary when Wells started looking at other schools. Wells chose Maryland over Kentucky, Georgia and Memphis in part because of Moton’s relationship with Terps assistant Bino Ranson, who had recruited Wells when he was an assistant at Xavier.
“I felt comfortable with Bino, and I know what kind of kid Dez is -- he don’t trust anyone until he’s really comfortable around you,” Moton said. “Relationships are everything to him. I had talked to [Terps head coach Mark Turgeon], and I always heard great things about him, so I told Dez that would be a great place for him to go."
While Moton approaches Tuesday's game with some trepidation, Wells is taking a different tact -- sort of like the little brother going up against his big brother.
“I’m going to kick him ... I can’t say it in the media," Wells said Sunday night after leading the Terps to an 85-74 win over Tulsa. "There’s not going to be any love shown."
Moton agrees with that last part.
“When they throw that ball up, we’re going to compete,” he said. “He’s not going to be my nephew for two hours and 15 minutes. After that I’ll meet him at halfcourt and give him the biggest hug ever, because I’m extremely proud of the kid.”
They were planning to have dinner Monday night along with Wells’ mother, Pam, and Moton’s wife, Bridget, after Moton’s team practiced at Comcast Center in preparation forCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun