Jaylen Brantley was watching on television at his house near the Odessa (Texas) College campus the night last March when Maryland point guard Melo Trimble was twice knocked out of his team's NCAA tournament game against West Virginia in the second half at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
The Terps trailed by three points with 15 minutes to play when Trimble left the game for the first time after taking a nasty shot to the head on a hard screen set by by 6-foot-9, 235-pound sophomore Nathan Adrian, the Mountaineers' backup center. Maryland was down seven points with a little under nine minutes remaining when Trimble left the game for good after the freshman star slipped on the floor and was inadvertently kicked in the head by teammate Damonte Dodd. Trimble was later diagnosed with a concussion.
Playing with starting shooting guard Richaud Pack and later little-used Varun Ram at the point, Maryland lost, 69-59, in the Round of 32 to end a 28-7 season. Hundreds of miles away, Brantley wondered what would have happened had he been on the team.
"When Melo went down, I was like, 'Dang, I wish they had another point guard,'" Brantley recalled Tuesday. "The other guys, they did what they could, but they're [shooting guards or small forwards] so it was really hard for them to [handle the] pressure. I could've come in and settled it a little bit."
Now, with Trimble playing on the U.S. team at the Pan Am Games in Toronto, the 5-11, 170-pound sophomore from Springfield, Mass., is getting a chance to show Maryland coach Mark Turgeon how the offense looks when he gets to run it during the limited summer workouts allowed under NCAA guidelines.
Trimble's absence has helped speed up Brantley's transition from junior college to major college basketball.
"Definitely, with Melo being gone, it gives me more time to get more reps in," Brantley said. "It just gives me more time to be a leader and fill his role. Everyone knows and is comfortable with me when he's gone and out of the game. Everyone is comfortable with me just as they are with him."
Said Turgeon: "Ít's helped Jaylen a lot, I think it's helped our team. ... I don't think we sit around saying, 'Well if Melo was here today ….' We don't do that. I think it's been good for Jaylen, it's been good for Varun, it's been good for Dion [Wiley]."
Brantley has taken a long road just to get to College Park.
Going into his senior year in high school, Brantley was a four-star recruit who that summer had helped his Boston-based AAU team win the prestigious Peach Jam Invitational. The team included future NBA lottery picks Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams, along with future Maryland teammate Jake Layman, Wayne Selden of Kansas and Georges Niang of Iowa State.
Brantley scored 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting in the championship game.
A mixup on the number of core classes he needed to take in high school left Brantley unable to accept the offer he had from Virginia, so he went to prep school and later enrolled at Marshall, where he sat out reportedly because of grade issues. After a coaching change there, Brantley wound up at Odessa.
Playing 25.5 minutes a game, Brantley averaged 14.3 points and 3.7 assists for a 20-9 team, shooting 42.9 percent from the field, 36.2 percent on 3-pointers and 80.9 percent from the foul line. He committed just 51 turnovers in 740 minutes and scored in double figures 23 times.
"It's always tough for a freshman adjusting, I think he played well at times," Odessa coach Tra Arnold said Tuesday. "I think as he grows and gets older and matures with them, I think he'll be a better player going forward."
Brantley, who will be 22 when the season starts, is one of two newcomers to Maryland this summer, along with five-star center prospect Diamond Stone, whom Brantley helped recruit after they spent time together during their official visit to Maryland last fall.
(A third newcomer, Duke transfer Rasheed Sulaimon, won't be at Maryland until after graduating next month.)
"The transition has been great, honestly with the help of my teammates and the coaching staff," Brantley said. "Coming from junior college, it's really different, the game's faster, people are bigger and faster. I'm thinking I'm getting it with [director of basketball performance] Kyle [Tarp] in the weight room, so everything's coming along."
Said Arnold, who has had a number of players go to high Division I programs: "It'll take him time to adjust. I think he'll do what is asked. He'll help run the team and make open shots. If that's his role to play some backup minutes, or whatever it may be, I think he'll be really good in that situation."
If anything, trying to catch up with his teammates in the weight room has impacted his shot, Brantley said. Known as a tremendous 3-point shooter — his former AAU coach, Leo Papile, compared him to former NBA 3-point specialist Dana Barros — Brantley has admittedly struggled to consistently knock down shots during pickup games and workouts at Xfinity Center.
"Coming into college, I didn't really lift a lot. The transition to me lifting constantly with big weight, I think it's messed up my shot a little bit," Brantley said with a smile. "I'll get back in the gym, and keep working on it, and I'll be back."
That he is still finding his role on a team stacked with guards has also been part of getting comfortable for Brantley in terms of looking for his shot.
"Coming from junior college, my coach wanted me to shoot," said Brantley, who was his team's second-leading scorer, averaging a little over 10 shots a game. "Now my job is to get everybody involved and make the right play. I'm not upset about that role, but me getting everybody involved and making my open shots will get this team better."