There was a time when they were in high school that Dion Wiley was thought to be a better college prospect than Melo Trimble. Even when they arrived at Maryland last season, many believed Wiley was not too far behind Trimble in terms of potential.
As things turned out, Trimble started every game at point guard and led the Terps in scoring, assists and minutes played while becoming a first-team all-Big Ten Conference selection and one of the top freshmen in the country. For the most part, Wiley struggled with his consistency and his confidence.
Admittedly, Wiley was frustrated with his situation, and himself.
"It was actually really hard for me, but I think I did a great job of covering it up," Wiley said last week during the team's media day. "No one actually knew that I was fed up a little bit. I'm a selfless guy, like I don't think about myself, I think about the team first. We were winning and we were successful, so I wasn't complaining."
After averaging 20 minutes and nearly seven points through Maryland's first 12 games — including a career-high 19 points in 27 minutes in a win over VMI and 12 points (nine in the first half) in a career-high 28 minutes in a loss to No. 5 Virginia in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge — Wiley's role changed when senior Dez Wells, who missed a month with a broken wrist, returned for the Big Ten season.
While Wiley seemed to be more productive on the road in the Big Ten than at Xfinity Center — getting nine points each in games at Illinois, Purdue and Indiana — the 6-foot-4 shooting guard bottomed out in the last nine games of the regular season. During that stretch, Wiley scored a total of six points, going scoreless in five straight games and seven overall.
Wiley, who averaged fewer than three points over Maryland's last 23 games and a shade over four points for the season, said that he didn't have the best attitude.
"I would think to myself, 'I'm not even getting in this game,' so I wouldn't even warm up hard sometimes because I felt as if I wouldn't play," Wiley recalled.
In retrospect, Wiley thought he made a mistake telling coach Mark Turgeon after a couple of early-season starts that he preferred coming off the bench.
"The first start, I had my career high, but the second start, I didn't play well, I had like three or four turnovers, one of the coaches asked me why I played like that and I said I wasn't ready to start yet," Wiley said . "It was too much pressure. I'm not sure they took it in the wrong way that I had no confidence, but I think it was a reason why the minutes went down."
Said Turgeon: "I don't think he was frustrated until the very end. If you look at our last four games, that's when he didn't play a lot and he got frustrated. We were well aware of it. He helped us in the NCAA tournament. Kids understand that you've got to pay your dues and he did it. This year it'll be a little different."
Trimble and Jared Nickens, who are close with Wiley (all three have a “My Brother’s Keeper” tattoo), were supportive of their struggling fellow freshman last season.
"Dion has a lot of confidence, he was just a little bit frustrated last year," Trimble said last week. "We always talked positive about him. Every practice, I would tell him, 'Keep your head up' or I'd say things like 'Go get a bucket' and he would do that."
Said Wiley: "They [Trimble and Nickens] never criticized me or anything. They would always motivate me, they would never brag or anything" about the way they played.
Aware of Wiley's struggle to stay in shape because of a lack of playing time, Turgeon pushed the freshman guard in practice, often keeping him on the court for the entire session. It helped in the postseason, as Wiley played 14 minutes in the team's second-round win over Valparaiso and 17 in a season-ending loss to West Virginia.
In the 65-62 win over Valparaiso, Wiley's only shot attempt was a made 3-pointer that ended a nearly 41/2-minute scoreless stretch and pushed the Terps ahead for good, 44-41.
"Coach Turgeon would always tell us, 'You never know when it's going to be your night," Wiley said. "He told me after the Valpo game that I made the biggest shot of the night because we were in a drought. I played well defensively throughout the tournament. He told me I came a long way defensively. I really was just proud that I didn't give up. I think it made me stronger mentally to prepare for this year."
It helped renew Wiley's confidence going into the offseason and erased any thoughts, however fleeting, of trying to find a bigger role elsewhere. Wiley had seen what happened to close friend Roddy Peters, who transferred from Maryland to South Florida after his freshman year.
"I didn't want to transfer out because I didn't play a lot," Wiley said. "I wanted to show people that I can play here and the coaches weren't the reason I wasn't playing. It was me."
Even with the arrival of Duke transfer Rasheed Sulaimon, who is expected to start at shooting guard alongside Trimble, Wiley doesn't think this year will be a repeat of last season. He dropped 12 pounds and 4 percentage points in body fat since the end of his freshman year.
"I don't think it's similar at all because of the work I put in over the summer. I got in better shape, I'm playing better defensively, I'm playing harder, I'm more explosive," he said. "I think we all can compete for minutes, it's going to be hard for Coach Turgeon to play everyone. But if we buy in collectively then we should be straight."
Said Trimble: "He's more aggressive than I've ever seen him. We've been working out a lot lately and that's what's got him more assertive and confident about his game."
Turgeon has seen a difference, too.
"He's been more consistent, he was one of our better players through the summer," Turgeon said. "Of the first 11 practices, he's had eight good ones, maybe nine. That right there tells you he's going to be more consistent. I think he believes in what he's doing, the players believe in him. He's gotten better in all phases. He's our most efficient [offensive] player. He doesn't need a lot of shots to score."
Said Wiley: "I am a lot more confidant, and I'm a lot more comfortable playing with Coach Turgeon in his system. Last year, I really didn't know what to expect because I was a freshman. Now I'm a lot more comfortable handling the ball, shooting it, defensively, everything."