A remarkable turnaround year for the Maryland men’s basketball team continued with another positive move Thursday, when junior forward Jake Layman announced he would return for his final season in College Park.
Layman’s decision comes two weeks after Diamond Stone, a five-star senior center from Milwaukee, committed orally to the Terps. It comes one week after star point guard Melo Trimble decided to return for his sophomore year, bolstering a program suddenly mentioned again among the nation’s elite.
A third-team All-Big Ten Conference selection by the media last season, Layman adds an important piece to what several analysts have said is the Big Ten’s early favorite and a Final Four contender in 2016.
“This is monstrous for us,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said after the school announced Layman’s decision to forgo entering the June 25 NBA draft. “We needed to have Jake back. This is a really good decision to enjoy college, enjoy being young and enjoy being part of a good team. This is huge for us.”
In a statement, Layman said: “I would like to thank Coach Turgeon for his guidance during this process. Maryland is my home and we had great success this year. There is so much to look forward to next season and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Turgeon met for nearly three hours on campus Wednesday with Layman and his parents, who concluded that he had a better chance of becoming a first-round draft choice in 2016 than he would this year. According to league sources, Layman was likely to have been an early- to mid-second-round pick, meaning he would not have received a guaranteed contract.
An NBA advisory committee, made up of league general managers and other front-office officials, had provided Layman, his parents and Turgeon with evaluations that led them to a similar conclusion: It would be best for Layman’s NBA prospects that he return to school.
“I think what we really started looking at was not him getting to the NBA, but what was the best chance to stay in the NBA,” Jake Layman’s father, Tim, said in an interview Thursday. “We had to really look at that hard. … In the end, it became kind of an easy decision.
“We feel great about how Mark handled it. We’re super confident with [director of basketball performance] Kyle Tarp helping Jake continue to get stronger. … The whole system around Jake is a great situation. … Maturity-wise, as a man and his game, it really is a win-win situation.”
Tim Layman also said his son is on track to graduate next spring. “That’s kind of a double bonus for us,” he said.
Jake Layman helped the Terps set a school record for regular-season wins (26) and return to the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years. Maryland lost in the third round to West Virginia, 69-59, in Columbus, Ohio.
The 6-foot-9, 205-pound forward was the team’s third-leading scorer (12.5 points per game), behind Trimble (16.2) and senior guard Dez Wells (15.1), as well as its leading rebounder (5.8). Despite a late-season slump, Layman shot a career-high 47 percent from the field.
While the arrival of Stone and Georgia Tech transfer Robert Carter Jr. might affect Layman’s per-game averages next season, Turgeon said he expects the Wrentham, Mass., native to continue developing.
“From the end of his sophomore year to end of his junior year, Jake improved as much as any player I’ve ever coached,” Turgeon said. “I hope we can do that again between his junior and senior year. I think he can. Jake works hard, he loves the game and he wants to be successful. I imagine he’s going to have a great spring and summer, which should lead to a great winter.”
Turgeon acknowledged that Layman, who is expected to move from his “stretch 4” role to a better-fitting wing position next season, might have been worn down from trying to play inside against bigger, stronger players in the Big Ten.
After scoring in double figures in 20 of Maryland’s first 21 games, averaging over 15 points in a stretch Wells missed much of with a fractured wrist, Layman struggled, falling to about nine points per game over the team’s last eight.
Other parts of his game suffered, too. Layman’s field-goal percentage dropped off from 56 percent through the Terps’ first 16 games to 40 in the last 19. And after averaging nearly eight rebounds in Maryland’s first 10 conference games, Layman averaged less than four rebounds over the team’s last 12 overall, including the NCAA tournament.
“I thought he had a great start of the season. He was terrific,” Turgeon said. “Because he was so good, other teams focused on him and did a nice job [defensively] on him. I think physically, I had to ride Jake hard when Dez was hurt. Jake was playing unbelievable minutes.
“Dez got hurt, missed five weeks. He was fresh down the stretch. If Jake has a good summer, is able to build his body up, he’ll be able to take the punishment more. I think Jake had a great year, and this will help him, as a senior, have more of complete season.”
Another area Layman will have to address is his leadership. Painfully shy when he arrived at Maryland as a freshman, he often deferred to Wells and even Trimble on the court last season.
“He’s going to have to [become a leader]. It’s not natural for him. It’s something that him and I are going to work on throughout the spring and summer,” Turgeon said. “He’ll lead more by example. Jake’s been real loyal to me; he probably understands me better than any player on the team. So he should be a good leader because of that.”