In an age when one-and-done players are coveted and those who take time to develop on the college level are often scorned, Maryland junior Jake Layman is quietly beginning to show why he made the under-18 U.S. national team the summer before he came to College Park.
Layman's performance for the No. 17 Terps in Sunday’s 73-64 victory at Oklahoma State was arguably his best at Maryland: 21 points, including an incredible dunk down the lane to slow the Cowboys' comeback attempt, to go along with a career-high 11 rebounds and three steals.
On Monday, Layman was named co-Big Ten Player of the Week along with Indiana's Troy Williams.
It was the latest in a recent string of games that the 6-foot-9, 205-pound forward took over with a strong second half. And it showed how Layman has embraced the role of go-to guy in the absence of injured senior guard Dez Wells, who is expected to return Saturday after missing a month with a fractured wrist.
In fact, Layman’s 16-point second half at Gallagher-Iba Arena on Sunday was reminiscent of the scoring runs Wells has had after halftime during his first two seasons at Maryland. It helped Layman reach double figures in scoring for the 12th straight time this season.
More importantly, it helped the Terps win for the sixth time in the seven games since Wells was injured.
“He’s just doing it,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said of Layman on Sunday. “Jake is just growing up. The things he’s doing, he couldn’t have done two months ago, and Dez Wells getting hurt has been a blessing for him. He’s had to do more, and he’s a bigger part of our offense.”
Layman has credited the work he has done with David Atkins, a former women’s assistant coach under Brenda Frese who is now a player development assistant coach for the Washington Wizards, as well as former teammate John Auslander, now a graduate assistant under Turgeon, for helping to expand his game.
In the process, Layman has gone from a streaky perimeter shooter who occasionally displayed flashes of his athleticism to a player who is a “hard guard,” according to Turgeon, because of his ability to create off the dribble and use his outside shot to set up his drives.
With the new motion offense Turgeon put in over the summer, and the influx of freshmen seemingly built for the system, “you need to spread the floor out and let Jake do his thing," Turgeon said. "He’s very comfortable. He’s very good at reading situations, recognizing where he can find holes in our offense, and it’s really great to see.”
If freshman point guard Melo Trimble is the biggest reason for Maryland’s turnaround this season, then Layman might be considered a close second. Quiet by nature, Layman also is playing with more emotion on the court and more of the swagger that seemed to be missing from his game.
“I have a lot of confidence,” Layman said Sunday. “I think the process in maturing and having confidence is different for every player. I just try and work to get better after each practice and game. I think that I have matured.
"I understood that I had to be more aggressive since Dez is out and play at a high level for our team to be successful. I had confidence that I could do so.”
As impressive as the offensive part of Layman's game has been -- including hitting all five shots in the second half Sunday and averaging 16.3 points in the seven games that Wells has missed, compared to 13.8 in the team's first five games -- he has made as big a jump defensively.
After Oklahoma State star Le’Bryan Nash got off to a strong start, keeping the Cowboys in the game with 11 points in the first half, Layman helped hold the 6-7, 235-pound senior to just six points on 2 of 6 shooting in the second half.
"I thought, defensively, he took on a challenge with Nash and had some big rebounds for us because we weren’t the biggest team out there late in the game,” Turgeon said. “He got tired. He had to play a lot of minutes, but I’m really leaning on him and Melo while Dez is hurt. Those two have really stepped up.”
Wells has been working on getting back into game shape the past couple weeks and could be at practice Christmas night if he is cleared by team doctors. The team’s leading scorer the past two seasons, Wells will return to a team that is even more confident than the one he left last month.
One player in particular is much more confident.