Terps counting on Wiley to keep his confidence up
Guard, in return from season-ending surgery, shaking off shooting slump to bolster bench
COLLEGE PARK — 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 the way 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 his freshman season 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-pointer 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 his 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, 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 Barclays Classic At Brooklyn, N.Y. Tonight, 9:30 TV: MASN Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM one shot just to get his confidence back,” said Trimble, who finished with a gamehigh 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 of 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) tonight in the first round of the Barclays Classic in Brooklyn, N.Y., with the winner playing Saturday against the winner of the Kansas State-Boston College game 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 to create more backspin.
Though Turgeon was not a great 3-point shooter at Kansas — he made13 of 46 tries in his senior year (1986-87), the first season the 3-pointer was used in the college game — Maryland’s Dion Wiley goes up for a dunk in last week’s win over St. Mary’s. Wiley, who struggled shooting to start the season, scored 13 points in 13 minutes Tuesday night against Stony Brook. the coach has worked with enough shooters in 19 seasons as a 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 Jr., Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson — had quiet nights offensively. The freshmen, who had been helping Trimble carry the Terps, finished a combined 6-for-15 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.”