There was a lot of hype following Jake Layman into his freshman year at Maryland. The 6-foot-8 forward from the Boston suburbs had made a dramatic leap in national recruiting rankings between his junior and senior seasons in high school, then got another boost when he made the under-18 U.S. national team the summer before he came to College Park.
The first few months at Maryland were a bit overwhelming for Layman, on and off the court. Mark Turgeon softened his approach with Layman around Christmas after talking with the freshman's parents, and Layman responded during the second half of the season. He lived up to his reputation as a player who could shoot long range, and showed off his athletic skills around the basket.
Going into his sophomore year, the hype keeps growing. Layman led the Terps in scoring in their three-game summer tour in the Bahamas, and figures to play a major role this season. Noticeably shy and less cocky than most Division I players, Layman seems more comfortable around his teammates as well as the media.
“I think it’s definitely confidence. Last year, I struggled with that a little bit, having confidence here and there,” Layman said at the team's media day Tuesday. “I think this year, I kind of found myself. I know what I can do and I should be doing it. Last year, playing college ball, I guess I just took longer to adjust than some guys do.”
Layman never doubted his ability to play at a high level.
“I knew if I kept pushing, I would be fine,” he said.
After just one double-figure scoring game and five scoreless ones in the team’s first 13 contests — a stretch in which he saw just three minutes of playing time Nov. 27 against Northwestern and four minutes Dec. 21 against Stony Brook — Layman came back from the team's Christmas break a different player.
He had 20 points in the Terps' Jan. 5 ACC opener against Virginia Tech, and had several more games when he showed what assistant coach Scott Spinelli and Turgeon first saw in him. He finished the season strong, including a 10-point, nine-rebound game in Maryland’s win over Duke in the ACC tournament and 13 points in a National Invitation Tournament quarterfinal win at Alabama.
Now comes the hard part. Will Layman be as happy coming off the bench as a sophomore as he was a year ago? Turgeon said Tuesday that he has “seven-and-a-half starters," a list that certainly includes Layman, who likely will start the season backing up junior Nick Faust (City) on the wing and junior Evan Smotryzc as a stretch 4.
“I never really cared about starting. It didn’t make me feel any different on the court,” Layman said. “To me, that doesn’t matter.”
Turgeon has made it clear that Layman will be on the floor more than he will be on the bench this season.
“From last year on this date to today’s practice, wow, it’s not even close,” Turgeon said of his sophomore's improvement. “He did explode [in the Bahamas]. He saw a lot of zone down there, which helped him. He can really shoot it. He has worked hard on his ball handling, his passing, his decision making, like all our players have. He’s gotten a lot better defensively, he’s gotten more physical. In the end, he’s gotten more confident. It’s great to see. He’s got a chance to be special.”
Just don’t expect Layman to start complaining if Turgeon pulls him after he hits a bunch of shots in a row, as happened a few times last season.
“I don’t think it’s me saying something to him. I think it’s me knowing that if if it’s going to be this way, I’m going to have to deal with, it no matter what,” Layman said. “I have to make shots no matter what’s going on. For me, it was confidence [last season when he would come back cold]. That’s definitely changed a lot, and this year will be different.”