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'A whole different kid,' Jake Layman takes on bigger role for Terps

Terps junior Jake Layman.
Terps junior Jake Layman. (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun)

COLLEGE PARK — Gone is the flowing blonde hair that gained a following on Twitter when Maryland junior forward Jake Layman was a freshman.

Gone is the hesitancy when Layman was talking to reporters or when he was taking it to the hoop for a dunk.

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With the locks shorn on his head if not on his face and a more confident persona and well-rounded game, Layman is finally starting to show what had Maryland coach Mark Turgeon so excited and NBA scouts intrigued when he came to college after a summer playing with the under-18 national team.

What Layman demonstrated only in spurts during his first two seasons at Maryland has become more the norm, as evidenced by the way he has played in preseason practice and then opened the regular season in Friday's 82-48 win over Wagner with what was arguably his best game for the Terps.

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"He's a whole different kid," Turgeon said after Layman scored 16 points, grabbed nine rebounds and handed out a career-high six assists in 25 minutes. "He's trying to do all the right things off the floor. And he's just playing with confidence. That's the whole thing, just keep Jake confident."

Said Layman: "I think for me it's just all around maturity, even in school for me, off-the-court stuff, it just translates on the court, too."

Maryland hopes that what Layman showed in the season opener continues. They'll need him when Central Connecticut State visits Xfinity Center on Monday and Fordham comes in Thursday, as well as when the competition is racheted up next week in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City and later in the team's first season in the Big Ten.

The preliminary indications are promising.

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After trying to get his teammates involved in Friday's opener with the early assists, Layman's night was jump-started late in the first half with a monster dunk down the lane. It continued into the second half with a pair of three-point plays that showed his athleticism and touch.

The first came when Layman flew from one side of the basket to the other, grabbed Dion Wiley's missed shot in the air and, without coming down, made a short follow and was fouled. The second came when Layman simply drove down the lane, went airborne and scored as he was fouled.

"I think that's where I'll create [favorable] matchups, when I'm out on the perimeter and they have to close out to me [defensively], I'll be able to go by them," said Layman, who hit five of seven shots from the field, after making 10 of 13 in two preseason games. "I think we'll be able to exploit that more going forward."

Layman's reputation at Maryland previously had been one of a player whose production often was determined by the first couple shots he tried, usually 3-pointers. If they went in, Layman would continue to look for his shot and have a good game. If not, Layman often disappeared.

"What I've tried to do is just be a basketball player and not really worry about scoring too much," said Layman, who more than doubled his offensive production last season (11.7 points per game) from his freshman year (5.5 ppg). "Now I'm comfortable letting the game just come to me."

Layman even has made strides defensively. In the past, Layman made some great defensive plays in the air — he and 6-foot-5 shooting guard Dez Wells led a team devoid of rim protectors in blocked shots last season with 25 — but was continually beat off the dribble.

Since the tail end of last season, Layman has worked hard at moving his feet and being more physical.

"I think I've made a huge improvement," Layman said on Media Day in October. "I'm guarding Dez every day in practice, which is great for me. He's one of the best players in the country. I've definitely gotten a little stronger, but just having the mindset and confidence that I can guard anybody has definitely helped."

Layman credits Wells for toughening him up over the summer. Layman recalled a particularly intense pickup game in the practice gym where Wells was trying to muscle his way past Layman to the basket. More than once, the 6-9, 210-pound forward didn't back down.

"I think Dez has helped me become the player that I am because he's pushed me every day," Layman said in October. "That pickup game was kind of a preview for the year coming up, just how intense we're going to be this season on the court."

A switch from the wing to more of an inside player was necessitated by an injury to senior forward Evan Smotrycz. It seems to have unleashed Layman into being more aggressive and assertive around the basket, both offensively and defensively.

"He's a tough guard at the 4 [power forward] because he's so quick," Turgeon said. "Evan's injury has been a blessing for our team. Not for Evan, but it's going to be a blessing for our team as the year goes on. We're finding a lot about our guys and how they can help us play as the year goes on."

Layman gives credit to Smotrycz for helping him adjust to playing more inside.

"He's been giving me some pointers, what you saw out there came from Evan," Layman said Friday.

Having watched Layman make this jump from of a stationary jump shooter to a more complete player, Wells is raising his own expectations for Layman.

"He made a mistake tonight," Wells said Friday. "Now he showed me the level that he can elevate his game to, so now, I'm expecting that every time we touch the floor. In practice, when we're working out, that's the level of excellence I have for Jake at this point now."

Maybe that will spur a new Twitter account now that @JLaymansHair seems to be a distant memory.

twitter.com/sportsprof56

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