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Former college stars Dez Wells, Pat Connaughton hope to hear their names called at NBA Draft

Will former Terp Dez Wells be the latest Maryland player drafted?

Dez Wells and Pat Connaughton ended their senior years in college on about the same level in the eyes of many NBA scouts. Both were considered good all-around players and the emotional leaders of their respective teams, touted more for intangibles than the skills that easily translated to the pro game.

As a result, the two shooting guards were also considered marginal NBA draft picks.

Going into Thursday's draft, the former stars at Maryland and Notre Dame, respectively, find themselves in far different positions: Wells remains overlooked on nearly all the mock draft boards while Connaughton's stock has gone up steadily the past couple of months.

The second-best 3-point shooter in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season (42.3 percent), the 6-foot-5, 218-pound Connaughton said Wednesday that he knows his goals heading into the draft.

"To show teams that there was more to my game than just shooting and to prove to them that I had some dedication to the basketball side of things," he said.

Connaughton was referring to the fact that he was picked by the Orioles in the fourth round of the 2014 Major League Baseball draft and was given a $428,000 signing bonus. Connaughton said he signed only after being granted permission by the Orioles to play basketball his senior year.

"One of the reasons I wasn't really considered an NBA [prospect] until this year was because teams assumed I was going to play baseball," Connaughton said. "I've heard from many [NBA] scouts and they said, 'We would have been interested, but we didn't know this was the route you wanted to pursue."

A baseball source said Connaughton will risk losing his signing bonus from the Orioles if he chooses to play basketball, as the team believes it has the right to recoup the money and would likely pursue doing so.

Connaughton said he will return to pitching if he is not drafted or believes he can't make an NBA training camp roster out of the summer league.

"That's where I draw the line, that's where I would go back to playing baseball and can sleep at night knowing I gave myself a chance to play in the NBA," Connaughton said. "I didn't want to burn a bridge before I saw what was on the other side."

Connaughton said the Orioles, who will retain the right-handed pitcher's rights, have continued to be supportive of him pursuing his dream of playing in the NBA.

"We've had discussions throughout this process and they've definitely been great, which is rare because of how much of a business sports has become," he said.

Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said the team will monitor the situation.

"We'll wait and see how it works out for him," Duquette said. "We believe he has a future in baseball obviously. We invested in him last year. He's a terrific athlete. … He wants to give basketball a shot, so we'll have to see what kind of shot he gets from the NBA."

Orioles director of player development Brian Graham said the club isn't concerned about Connaughton's baseball conditioning.

"He's in great physical shape first of all, and he's still playing catch, so he's still definitely keeping his options open as well," Graham said.

Connaughton said the athleticism he displayed on occasion at Notre Dame — including a two-handed transition dunk against top-seed Kentucky in an Elite Eight defeat — as well as at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, where he had the highest vertical leap at 44 inches, has changed his status among scouts.

"People didn't see it, so they didn't know," Connaughton said. "Obviously being able to show teams that I might not be as good at it as I am in shooting, but it's there and it's further along than people realize when you couple it with the athletic testing."

Lance Young, who represents both Wells and Connaughton for Excel Sports Management, said it is not guaranteed that Connaughton will be picked in the second round, but he has a chance.

"When you have teams really interested [picking] in the mid-to-late 30s, I think that is an indication that he may not go in the 30s, but there's enough teams that like him that someone is likely going to pick him," Young said.

"One of the teams told me, 'We're so excited to have a kid just focus on basketball because he's been a two-sport guy for the past six or seven years. If you take a kid like this that's as good as he is in basketball now and just have him dedicate all his time to basketball, the sky's the limit. He's just scratching the surface."

If anything, Wells had to show there was more to his game than a history of highlight dunks, including a few as a senior after he recovered from a broken wrist early in the season.

The biggest knock on Wells going into last season — and into NBA tryouts — was his 3-point shooting, where he improved from 30.4 percent as a junior (17-for-56) to 51 percent (25-for-49) as a senior.

An NBA scout who asked to remain anonymous and has seen Wells shoot at one of his 13 private workouts said recently that the 6-5, 215-pound guard "shot a lot better than we thought he could."

"I definitely had to work on some mechanics with my shot. All that is, is repetition," Wells said. "I feel more confident in my shot and I feel more confident in my game than I ever have."

Wells said Wednesday that he doesn't pay attention to what most analysts are predicting on NBA mock draft boards.

"That's just a distraction," he said.

Young said the former Maryland guard reminds him of one of his former clients, Wesley Matthews, who went undrafted out of Marquette in 2009 but has carved together a solid six-year NBA career, the last five as a starter with the Portland Trail Blazers.

"Every team I spoke to about Wesley said he shoots it well, he defends well, he's pretty athletic, but he's not great at anything. He's good at everything," Young said. "I think Dez fits into that category. … I've told everyone this. The bottom line is that Dez is going to be an NBA player and Dez is going to have a long career in the NBA, not at the end of the bench but to actually contribute."

Young said Wells could go anywhere from early in the second round to not being drafted at all, and "three or four teams have shown sincere interest" in him.

"He has things that every team is looking for," Young said. "He has the toughness. He's got the game. He's got the strength. He's got the athleticism."

According to Young, a couple of scouts remarked that they were impressed with the way Wells played most of an early-season victory over then-No. 13 Iowa State after breaking his wrist in the first two minutes. Young said the scouts, including one who was at the game, said "that's what we want, a guy like that who's as tough as nails and plays a whole game with a broken wrist."

Young said the first time he saw Wells work out at Xfinity Center with a trainer brought in by Excel Sports Management, Wells was not happy with the way he performed in one of the drills.

"The trainer was like, 'Let's just go to the next [drill] and Dez said, 'No, I want to do it again and I want to do it better,'" Young said. "At one point, he took the ball and threw it as hard as he could against the backboard because he was so frustrated. Most kids would just move on. He wanted to perfect. I knew then that this kid is going to make it."

Wells recalls not thinking he was getting his proper due coming out of high school in North Carolina four years ago, and his preparation for the NBA draft is similar.

"I've believed that I could become a great player at every level of basketball and I had to go out and prove myself," Wells said Wednesday. "I did it at the college level and I know I can do I at the NBA level."

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

Sun reporter Eduardo A. Encina contributed to this article.

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Correction

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Pat Connaughton's 3-point field goal percentage and its rank in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season.

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