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Resilient Jake Layman playing with confidence for Maryland

Jake Layman #10 of the Maryland Terrapins celebrates after hitting a three pointer against the Iowa Hawkeyes in the first half at Xfinity Center on January 28, 2016 in College Park, Maryland.

COLLEGE PARK — As a high school pitcher, Jake Layman never let opponents see what was going in his head, whether he was getting shelled or throwing a shutout. It was part of what his parents, former college athletes themselves, had taught Layman and his four brothers.

"We helped prepare him for the emotional battle that it takes in any type of career," Tim Layman said earlier this week. "It's not always about athleticism and those things. Emotionally, are you resilient enough to handle the ups and downs? You can't live on your last game, your last stat sheet. Jake has always been extremely emotionally stable."

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As much as it bothers his critics, who question whether Layman is thoroughly engaged at all times, that same resiliency has carried the 6-foot-9 forward through a senior year that some might view as a statistical disappointment, yet Maryland coach Mark Turgeon sees as a transformative success.

"He's had a great year, he's had a tremendous year," Turgeon said Friday before practice. "When kids say they're going to enjoy their senior year like Jake has, they usually have great years. He sees the light at the end of the tunnel and he's excited about finishing the year the right way."

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Layman's evolution is more about nuance than sheer numbers.

The statistics suggest Layman has not grown much between his sophomore and senior years. Layman is scoring less now (10.5 points) than he was then (11.7), rebounding only slightly more (5.4 to 5.0) and making 3-pointers at exactly the same rate (36.5 percent).

Yet going into Saturday's game at No. 20 Purdue (21-7, 9-6 Big Ten Conference) Layman is also shooting a career-high 48.1 percent from the field, including nearly 60 percent (61 of 102) on two-point field goal attempts, and has improved dramatically at the free throw line (81.7, seventh in the Big Ten), and on the defensive end of the floor for the 10th-ranked Terps (25-3, 11-4).

"As a player, you can't worry about the numbers," Layman said. "As long as you're playing at a high level, while being confident, then I think the sky's the limit for anybody and that's where I'm at right now. I'm playing very confidently."

Still, offensive production remains a huge part of his game, just as it does for the rest of Maryland's starting lineup that is only one of two among nationally ranked teams — along with No. 5 Xavier — where all five players average in double figures.

Since going through an eight-game stretch where he went 5-for-24 on 3-point shots, Layman has gone 6-for-9 in the past three games, making three of four while scoring 16 points in Sunday's 86-82 win over Michigan.

"I think there was a little bit of adjustment period, going back to the 3 [small forward] this year," said Layman, who is 13 of 20 overall during this latest stretch. "I think I'm kind of catching my stride, and I'm back to playing with confidence. As long as I'm playing with confidence, I think other things will work out."

Said Turgeon: "About three, four weeks ago in practice he got a lot more aggressive offensively and it's kind of carried over to the games. He's a weapon out there for us. The rest of his game has been terrific. Offensively he tries to make the right decision every time and defensively he's been really good for us."

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While his defense has improved markedly — including helping shut down the likes of Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff (2-for-13, nine points), Nebraska's Shavon Shields (4-for-17, 11 points) and Ohio State's Marc Loving (1-for-9, nine points) —he knows that he must be able to contribute offensively on a more consistent basis.

"For me to be a complete player, I need to be able to lock down the best player and also be effective on offense," Layman said. "I think I'm starting to kind of get a feel for it. … For me, personally, I just want to be consistent and efficient. I think coming down the stretch here, as long as I'm playing aggressive, playing confident, those things will happen."

Confidence has been an ongoing battle with Layman, going back to his high school days. He finally appears to be winning that fight.

"I would say sometimes, but I think that's all part of me growing, maturing, becoming a complete player," Layman said. "Not really having those thoughts and just going out every night and knowing — to be that kind of player, I think you need to think every night, 'I'm the best player on the floor ' no matter what. I think I'm getting there."

Turgeon said that it is difficult at times for a Maryland player to dominate in the current system with the talent the Terps have amassed.

"You're between letting the guys just play, run our system and then running plays for players," Turgeon said after the Michigan game. "The thing I love about Jake is that he just keeps playing. … I've talked about Jake doing a good job defensively and the rest will take care of itself. "

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The most positive change is the way Layman looks at himself as a basketball player.

Asked what his biggest strength is, Layman said, "I just think it's my growth and my work ethic. I think, be the type of player that has grown each year, that's what coaches want to have."

Said Turgeon: "I just think he's really comfortable in his own skin right now so he's playing at a high level. He's making all the right decisions."

While he still rarely dominates on a team where he is more a complementary piece than a star — a "very talented glue guy," CBS analyst Clark Kellogg called Layman after a 16-point, 10-rebound game in a road win at Ohio State last month — he doesn't disappear like he used to earlier in his career.

"It's me becoming a complete player," Layman said. "Instead of just having to rely on my jump shot, I can drive it out now. I am getting better at making the right play, whether it comes to passing. Just that confidence to make that play is where I'm taking those leaps."

After deciding to return for his senior year, Layman went on a 7,000-calorie per day diet to put back the 20 pounds he lost toward the end of last season due to the flu and playing against true power forwards who outweighed him by 20 pounds or more.

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"I feel stronger," he said. "My body feels better than it has for four years."

Layman is not looking ahead to the Big Ten tournament in a couple of weeks, or the NCAA tournament beyond that.

"For me, I'm such a straight-and-narrow person, it's all about just going out every night and playing as hard as I can and it will all work out," he said. "I'm not thinking ahead to anything but Saturday's game right now. I just don't want to have any regrets when I leave this year."

Though his NBA stock doesn't appear to have moved much since he contemplated leaving after his junior year — he is still regarded as a likely second-round pick according to most mock drafts — Layman doesn't regret sticking around for his last season.

"I think this year has given me a chance to show some different things in my game," Layman said. "I just thought about coming back and being on a winning team. I believe in Coach Turgeon, I believe in this program. It was just all those things that I just wasn't quite ready to leave yet. I wanted to leave kind of legacy here and I hope by the end of this year it's a good one."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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