All summer, as Dion Wiley continued his rehabilitation from a torn meniscus that required surgery and kept him off the court for last season, he worked to regain the 3-point touch he had been known for in high school and for a few, rare moments during his freshman year at Maryland.
Throughout fall workouts, Wiley had impressed teammates and coaches with how much his shot had improved, helped in part by dropping more than 20 pounds and being able to get more elevation when shooting jumpers.
But when the Terps began their season earlier this month, Wiley's touch had disappeared. In Maryland's first three games, the 6-foot-4 guard missed 10 of 12 shots from the field, including all five of his 3-point attempts. His confidence faded too, reminiscent of when he was a freshman two years ago.
"I knew it was going to be like that for Dion," junior guard Melo Trimble said this week. "He's so excited to be out there playing for the team again, playing at the college level, to come back from an injury like that. It's devastating for him to miss a whole year. I understand how he came back a little sluggish."
As with most shooters, Trimble knew that all it was going to take was Wiley hitting his first 3-point shot in a game. That happened early in Tuesday's 77-63 victory over Stony Brook at Xfinity Center, when Wiley hit his first shot shortly after coming in.
Wiley proceeded to hit next three and rimmed out his fifth attempt. Though hampered by foul trouble that limited him to 13 minutes, Wiley finished with 13 points, and, along with junior center Michal Cekovsky (11 points in 16 minutes), gave the Terps a much-needed lift off the bench.
"We're always looking for Dion to hit that one shot just to get his confidence back," said Trimble, who finished with a game-high 21 points. "Once he got that first one down, I just told him, 'It's time now.'"
Wiley said his teammates and coaches never lost faith in him, telling him to shoot his way out his early-season woes.
"I don't think they looked at me as having a shooting slump. They were just waiting for me to get going," Wiley said. "I think I can build off of this when we play Richmond."
Maryland (5-0) will play Richmond (3-1) Friday night in the first round of the Barclays Classic in Brooklyn, N.Y., with the winner playing Saturday against the winner of Kansas State-Boston College for the championship (the losers will also play Saturday). The Terps will be looking for their fourth holiday tournament title in as many years.
While many attributed Wiley's slow start to the six months he was off the court — eight before he was able to begin playing pickup games with his teammates — it might have been the result of a simple mechanical defect.
Wiley credited his best performance since early in his freshman year to a shooting session last weekend he had with Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, who got Wiley to take his left thumb off the ball before releasing it with his right. Turgeon also instructed Wiley to hold the finish longer in order to create more backspin.
Though Turgeon was not a great 3-point shooter during his playing career at Kansas — he made 13 of 46 tries in his senior year (1986-87), the first season the 3-pointer was used in the college game — the coach has worked with enough shooters in 19 seasons as Division I coach to spot and correct flaws.
The performance of Wiley, Cekovsky and junior guard Jaylen Brantley offset the fact that Maryland's three freshmen starters — Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson — had quiet nights offensively. The freshmen, who had been helping Trimble to carry the Terps, finished a combined 6-of-15 shooting from the field.
"I think it's really important for us to get going," Wiley said of the upperclassmen coming off the bench, including Brantley and Jared Nickens, who has missed 23 of 27 shots from the field (16 of 20 on 3-pointers). "The young guys and this team are going to need us to make it far in the tournament and be a top 25 team."