Ex-Terps star Walt Williams talks about Dez Wells' return from injury

Ex-Terps star Walt Williams talks about Dez Wells' return from injury

Nearly a quarter-century ago, Maryland basketball star Walt Williams was in a similar situation that the team's current stat, Dez Wells, has faced this season.

In 1990-91, Williams missed more than a month of his junior year with a broken leg. Wells, who has missed a month of his senior year with a fractured wrist, is expected to return for Saturday's home game against Oakland.


While many of the circumstances are different – the injuries, time of the season when the two were hurt, the state of the program and the talent surrounding each of the players – the man once known as "The Wizard" said the approach should be the same for Wells.

"The thing that you have to do is not put pressure on yourself to perform to [immediately at] the degree when you left," said Williams, who is now Maryland's sideline radio reporter for its home games.

"The [1990-91] team had formed a way that they were playing and they were successful with it, and I didn't want to come and disrupt that. What I wanted to do was ease my way into it and find a way to do my thing out there, but be mindful of the team concept."

Williams was clearly the team's star when he chose to remain at Maryland after the program was severely sanctioned by the NCAA toward the end of his sophomore year.

Given that the sanctions included no postseason tournament appearance – even the ACC tournament was off-limits – the highlight of the 1990-91 season took place when Williams led the Terps to the ECAC Holiday Festival title in New York in late December.

Williams was injured a few weeks later, during a home loss to Duke as he and a teammate went for a loose ball. (Like Wells, who was hurt early in Maryland's win over Iowa State last month, Williams played the entire game with the injury.)

Without Walt, Gary Williams was able to patch together a competitive enough team led by Syracuse transfer Matt Roe, Garfield Smith, Cedric Lewis, former walk-on Vince Broadnax as well as freshmen Kevin McLinton and Evers Burns to knock off Georgia Tech and North Carolina State at home.

The Terps were 5-5 in the 10 games Williams missed.

He returned for the last four games of the season, helping the Terps win three of those games to finish the year with a respectable 16-12 record.

"It was a period where the team had to get refamiliar with playing with me and how we had success when I was in the rotation and I was the focal point," Williams said.

Though not completely healed and playing with a "a little bit of a limp" that made his teammates jokingly compare him to former New York Knicks center Willis Reed, Williams led the Terps to a road win at Virginia in what was the season finale.

"I was right back to being the dominant player on the court," said Williams, who would set a school record by averaging 26.8 points a game as a senior.

Roe, who had taken over the role as the team's leading scorer, recalled how getting Williams back was a "momentum changer, the crowd was really into it" and from strategy standpoint "it put an extra scorer on the floor and it opened it up for us and made our life a lot easier."

The same thing could happen for the current Terps, particularly for freshman point guard Melo Trimble and junior forward Jake Layman, who have become Maryland's top scorers. Williams said that the return of Wells will give opposing teams a player they might have to consider double-teaming.


Despite the fact that the rehabillation process is more closely monitored now than when he was playing, Williams said Wells will have "conditioning issues to overcome because you just have to work through in games because you can't simulate that."

Wells has been working the past 10 days on his conditioning by going through post-practice drills on the court with graduate assistant coaches John Auslander and Steve Asher as well as Kyle Tarp, Maryland's director of basketball performance.

Auslander is using the same conditioning drills that the Washington Wizards employed with Bradley Beal after the third-year shooting guard returned from a broken wrist.

Wells is in a different place than Williams was, considering that he is returning in time for the start of Maryland's inaugural Big Ten season. The Terps, ranked 15th nationally this week, have won six of seven games without Wells, including a 73-64 victory at Oklahoma State on Sunday after they came in as nearly 10-point underdogs.

"He has more time in his particular season to ease himself back to where he was before he got injured," Williams said of Wells. "There's no reason for him to think he has to hurry and do things. But I think his teammates believe in him and in a relatively short period of time, he will establish that he is the go-to many down the stretch."