Former Maryland standout Jake Layman getting NBA shot after languishing on Trail Blazers' bench for two years

There were more games during his first two NBA seasons that small forward Jake Layman never took off his warmup gear than played for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Even when the former Maryland standout got onto the court, it was usually not for long. More often than not, Layman didn’t do much to change a perception that he was a fringe NBA player.


One thing that didn’t change was Layman’s belief in himself and the even-keeled temperament some misread as ambivalence at times during his career in College Park.

“Me and my dad talk about it all the time. The confidence is there; it’s just having the right mindset of when you’re going through hard times or when things are going great, you never get too high and never too low,” Layman said in a telephone interview Thursday.

Despite cold shooting spells, former Terp Jake Layman has a solid summer league performance for Trail Blazers.

Going into Thursday night’s road game against the Phoenix Suns, Layman was in the middle of the most productive stretch of his NBA career. Over his previous 11 games, Layman averaged 11 points in a little over 20 minutes per game, shooting 56.2 percent from the field and 36.1 percent on 3-pointers.

“To me, it’s been the whole year,” Layman said. “It’s been an amazing year compared to the past two years when I’ve been learning a lot, seeing things from the bench, learning a lot of things from the veterans and I kind of put that all together for this year. I still have a lot more to improve on going forward.”

Though Layman, 24, said he never lost his confidence, he didn’t gain the trust of coach Terry Stotts and his staff. Acquired by Portland on the night of the 2016 draft from the Orlando Magic, who had selected him 47th overall, Layman was looked upon like many mid-to-late second-round picks — as a project.

Not that Layman was without his fans, even a former NBA MVP and perennial All-Star.

After not playing in the team’s first three games his rookie year, Layman made his debut toward the end of a 23-point blowout loss to the Golden State Warriors. In eight minutes, Layman scored 17 points to become a Moda Center favorite and a short-lived viral sensation.

As Layman’s performance began to trend on Twitter, a reporter asked first-year Warriors star Kevin Durant about how he thought his new team looked with him in the lineup after signing as a free agent.


“I thought we put together a really good game, other than Layman getting hot in the fourth quarter. Maybe he should be playing more,” Durant told reporters afterward.

For the first three games of his rookie season, and the first 40 minutes of the fourth, Jake Layman was no more than a paid spectator. That changed Tuesday.

Unfortunately, Stotts didn’t heed Durant’s suggestion.

Layman didn’t play in the next four games, and averaged just 2.2 points and 7.1 minutes in the 35 games he played. A consistent shooter at Maryland, Layman shot just 29.2 percent (26 of 89) from the field and 25.5 percent (13 of 51) on 3-pointers.

His second year was even worse.

After scoring 24 points in Portland’s final preseason game, Layman played in the first two games before sitting for the next 10. He wound up playing 35 games again, averaging only one point just under five minutes a game. He shot 29.8 percent overall (14 of 47) and 20 percent (4 of 20) on 3-pointers.

“I think at the beginning, it was definitely different coming from college and being a starter and playing the whole game,” Layman said. “For any player going to the NBA, guys go through it and don’t play their first year. It’s very common.


“You definitely learn to stick with it, work your [butt] off. I think the big thing with the Blazers and me is that they always told me that the third year is kind of that breakout year when guys get more playing time and start to play well.”

Layman said his lack of playing time overshadowed how much he was learning by watching games and competing in practice.

Former Maryland forward Jake Layman has signed a three-year contract with the Portland Trail Blazers.

“My first year definitely prepared me for my second year, to be able to handle not playing mentally,” he said. “Sometimes the mental game can bring guys down more than anything else. It’s just staying positive in your head, knowing things are going to get better. Keep working hard.

“My first two years definitely prepared me even more for this year. I would still keep that same mindset, keep that same maturity when I was going through it. And being more prepared and ready for those moments, so when I’m coming in and playing big minutes, just be ready to have an impact.”

With Maurice Harkless out early this season with a knee injury, Layman wound up as a starter — the opener was against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers — but was used sparingly in the fourth quarters of tight games.

Even after scoring a career-high 24 points on 10-for-13 shooting and tying his career high with seven rebounds in a 108-86 win over the Suns on Dec. 6, Layman’s playing time was sporadic.

“I started off the year playing with the starters, but I think it took a little time learning how to be effective with that group,” Layman said. “I think it’s just finally started to show, watching film, finding spots [to contribute], learning from vets like Moe Harkless, learning how to be effective with CJ [McCollum] and Damian [Lillard] on the court. There’s not really plays being run for you. Just learning how to impact the game on different levels.”

Perhaps the highlight of Layman’s career came last Friday when he scored 20 points in the second quarter of a 128-112 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, coming on a flurry of 3-point shots, drives and dunks that had fans yelling “Fear The Turtle” in tribute to both Layman’s alma mater and his long neck.

“That’s the biggest thing the coaching staff wants from me: always being aggressive,” Layman said. “Learning how to attack and make things happen out there. Recently I’ve been playing with our second unit, just always bringing that same mindset. To me, it really doesn’t matter. I’m in the rotation right now and if I didn’t play the next five games, it’ll still be the same for me. I’m prepared for moments like that.”

Stotts, who has developed a reputation of not giving rookies and second-year players much of a chance, appreciated Layman’s performance.

“When a player — any player — gets on a roll like that, it’s fun to watch,” Stotts told reporters that night. “You could see the enthusiasm in his eyes. He was scoring in different ways, the crowd getting behind him — those things are special. You love that about the NBA. I was really happy for him. It was 20 points in the quarter. That was pretty special.”


Seven-year veteran forward Meyers Leonard told reporters, “He’s hungry. And he wants to play well. He’s been in and out of the rotation, but he doesn’t let it affect him. When he gets the opportunity, he brings a very high level of energy. And he’s super-athletic. But at the same time, he plays within himself.”

Layman said the breakout performance had more to do with the confidence his teammates now have in him.

“The biggest thing is how much I’ve worked on my game the past two years and now I’ve finally got a chance to really show that and show how much my teammates have seen me work, and trust me out there when I do get hot out there to say, ‘Jake’s hot, let’s keep going to him,’ ” Layman said. “It’s a really great feeling to have my teammates recognize and have that confidence to keep going to me.”

Maryland's loss to No. 6 Michigan State ended a seven-game winning streak for the No. 13 Terps, but they remain on the heels of the Spartans and No. 5 Michigan nearly halfway through the Big Ten season.

His connection to Maryland is still strong. Layman is looking forward to Saturday’s home game against the Atlanta Hawks, whose roster includes one of his former teammates, Alex Len, as well another former Terp — Kevin Huerter — who shares a different connection to Layman. Huerter’s father, Tom, played college ball at Siena with Layman’s uncle, Steve McCoy.

“Just the fact that we all went to the same school, there’s definitely a connection, it’s a brotherhood for sure,” Layman said. “It’s a blessing to be part of that group of guys that are from Maryland and are playing in the NBA. I played with Alex, so me and him will talk. I’m excited to see Kevin, to tell him how great he’s doing and how I’m always watching and keeping up with their games.”

Now on the final year of his rookie contract, that is paying him $1.54 million this season, Layman is not looking ahead to anything this summer aside from getting married to his longtime girlfriend and now fiancee, Jasmine Garry, whom Layman started dating when he was a freshman at Maryland. The wedding will be held at the school’s chapel.

Asked whether he thinks about his recent stretch helping him secure a longer, more lucrative contract with the Trail Blazers or another NBA team, Layman sounds much like the player who rarely strayed off-message during his four years in college.

“Honestly, for me, that doesn’t really cross my mind,” he said. “I think I just need to focus on what’s happening right now and not what’s going to happen when the season’s over.”

Layman is appreciative the Trail Blazers stayed true to their promise of letting him develop.

“I was definitely blessed being drafted by the Blazers. They are definitely a team who believe in just trusting that process,” he said. “If it’s a second-round pick, just sticking with it and then that second or third they’ll be able to break out. That’s what I was told my first two years and I saw it happen in front of me, whether it was Allen Crabbe or Pat Connaughton. I believed it and now it’s happening.”