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Terps

Dion Wiley has ‘come a long way’ as he returns to court for Maryland vs. Catawba

COLLEGE PARK — Kyle Tarp had been there with Dion Wiley nearly more than anyone since the Maryland shooting guard tore his meniscus a year ago this week, an injury that caused him to miss his sophomore season.

Pushing him through the rehabilitation process, Tarp had watched Wiley go from the early exercises to restore the strength, stability and flexibility in his right knee to the transition back to the court during the late spring and early summer.

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When Wiley shed the brace he wore most of the summer for the first time in a pickup game with current and ex-teammates in early September, Tarp watched as Wiley went up against former Terps star Dez Wells one afternoon.

Tarp. the team's the director of basketball performance, was left stunned at how far Wiley had come, both mentally and physically, after sustaining the first serious injury since he started playing competitively.

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"He was giving Dez the business," Tarp recalled Thursday."I think he scored six of seven points [in a game to seven], made step-back 3s with Dez trying to get physical with him. It was pretty impressive that he mentally could have the capacity to go after one of the best players I've seen in my career."

When the Terps take the floor at Xfinity Center for a preseason exhibition against Catawba on Saturday, it will be Wiley's first game since tearing his meniscus in practice last November. Maryland opens the season Nov. 11 against American.

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon isn't expecting Wiley to pick up where left off, when he had been one of the more impressive players in practice and was challenging graduate transfer Rasheed Sulaimon for a starting job.

"I imagine he'll be a little bit nervous [Saturday] even though it's an exhibition game. He's just got to get his mind right and get used to playing again," Turgeon said in a teleconference Thursday. "He's got a great attitude. He's worked hard. He's done everything we've asked. He's showed signs of getting back to the old Dion."

Said Wiley, "I'm just really excited to be back, just looking forward to Nov. 11."

More than 40 pounds lighter than the chunky 241 he checked in at the summer before his freshman year, Wiley is hoping to play a major role this season for the Terps, who added six new players including five freshmen after losing four starters from a 27-9 Sweet 16 team.

"When I last played in a game, I was probably like 220 pounds, wasn't really in shape. Now I feel like I'm in the best shape of my life, the lightest I've been since 11th grade," Wiley said on media day last month.

On a team that has shown a willingness to pass through preseason practice, Wiley "is our best passer, especially coming off ball screens and on dribble handoffs. … He's tremendous with the ball in his hands," Turgeon said at media day.

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Turgeon said that Wiley grew as a player while watching from the bench last season.

"He didn't want to get hurt, but sometimes sitting out is a really good thing," Turgeon said. "It was good for him because he could sit back and really study it and mature in a different way instead of worrying, 'Oh god, I've got to guard this guy or that guy.' He's much further along because of that."

Asked where his game has grown the most, Wiley said, "I would say in my ballhandling and my passing ability. I handle the ball more, my handle is a little tighter and I see the floor more. I see the floor better and my decision-making has become better."

Turgeon said Thursday that Wiley still has a ways to go before he gets to the level where he was when he was injured.

"He's practicing better; he just needs to be a little more consistent in practice," Turgeon said. "There've been days when he's been our best player or top one or two players. His body looks great. He got down to 198 [pounds] after practice the other night. He's really done some amazing things there. … He's coming."

Wiley returns as a completely different player from the one who showed flashes as a streaky shooter during his freshman season, when he played well early on and in the NCAA tournament but struggled for much of the year while backing up seniors Dez Wells and Richaud Pack.

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"Once you lose your confidence, it's pretty much a wrap for the season," said Wiley, who averaged 4.1 points in 13.5 minutes per game as a freshman. "I actually look at moments during my freshman year when I did play well, and try to think positive vibes every time I play."

Early in his freshman year, after scoring what remains a career-high 19 points against VMI in his first career start and followed with 12 points off the bench against No. 7 Virginia, Wiley started against North Carolina Central two games later. It was the last start he made as a freshman.

Wiley committed turnovers on each of Maryland's first three possessions, all in a little over two minutes. He finished the game scoreless in 16 minutes, with five turnovers. He missed both shots he attempted. He told Turgeon afterward that he was more comfortable coming off the bench.

"I didn't feel like I was ready to start yet. I wasn't mature enough," Wiley said. "Now I feel I'm more confident."

Wiley appears to be more athletic than he was before. There was a short video making the rounds on social media this summer of Wiley taking an alley-oop and slamming the ball down one-handed.

"It was probably the first day out of my brace," he said. "We were in the gym late night shooting around — me, Anthony [Cowan] and one of the managers — and they recorded me making a couple of dunks."

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Turgeon even joked that the surgeon who operated on Wiley's knee must have put something in it to make him jump "like the Six-Million Dollar Man."

Said Wiley, "I do feel I'm jumping a little higher, probably the most athletic I've been since I've been playing basketball. I can get to the rim more, slash and finish at the rim better. I can [get] up more, block shots and defend better."

Wiley also sees life a little differently after the surgery. Before, he said he took basketball for granted and didn't pay that much attention to his academics. During his recovery from surgery while going through a grueling rehabilitation, Wiley grew up.

"Mentally, I more prepared for everything," said Wiley, who made the dean's list for the first time last fall. "This injury was the biggest injury I've had in my life. Going through this injury, I feel like I could go through anything right now."

Few, if any, players Turgeon has coached in nearly two decades on the Division I level have come as far as Wiley, particularly off the court.

"Dion's grown up so much, you have no idea," Turgeon said. "Academically, he's come a long way. He's got a long ways to go. He'll graduate from Maryland. It's a great story in itself, just the way he acts on the floor. He's matured on the floor, he's matured as a person. It's a good story. It's one of the great of the great stories, to be honest with you."

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His teammates, one in particular, are happy to have Wiley back.

Junior guard Melo Trimble, who came in with Wiley and Jared Nickens two years ago and formed a bond that was punctuated by the tattoo they all got, reading, "My Brother's Keeper," said Wiley — a redshirt sophomore because of the injury — has "come back a lot stronger, leaner, more explosive with a lot of confidence."

Trimble has noticed the transformation off the court as well.

"He's a different person. He's around us more. He's actually vocal, in my opinion," Trimble said. "A lot of people don't know that. He helps me lead the young guys. He's more aggressive. He know it's his time."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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