Against old teammate, Terps' Jake Layman seeks to show he belongs

Matchup against No. 5 Wisconsin revives old rivalry between Maryland's Jake Layman and Badgers' Sam Dekker.

In the summer of 2012, Jake Layman and Sam Dekker were teammates on the under-18 United States national team that beat host Brazil for the gold medal in the FIBA Americas championships.

Layman was a skinny 6-foot-8, 190-pound shooter from outside of Boston who was not nearly as highly rated as Dekker and most of the other players on the team. Dekker, then 6 feet 7 and 195 pounds, was a five-star prospect ranked 17th nationally overall. Conversely, Layman was a four-star recruit ranked 67th.

Tim Layman said recently that his son had a "chip on his shoulder" in terms of showing Dekker and the other five-star recruits that he belonged on the same court.

"I think back then there was more of a mindset that I was the unknown guy," Jake Layman recalled Sunday.

With Dekker nursing an injury for much of the competition, Layman got a chance to show he belonged. Though he only played around 12 minutes per game, Layman averaged nearly eight points and four rebounds, hit 12 of 19 shots and led the team in scoring with 18 points in an opening-round win over Mexico.

Three years later, Layman came into the Big Ten as something of an unknown, with a similar reputation as mostly a shooter who occasionally showed his athleticism inside. That has changed over the course of Layman's junior year and Maryland's first season in the conference.

Going into Tuesday's matchup between No. 16 Maryland (22-5 overall, 10-4 Big Ten) and No. 5 Wisconsin (24-2, 13-1) at Xfinity Center, Layman and Dekker likely will play a big role for their teams in the much-anticipated game.

"I've seen how much his game has grown, I'm really happy for him, I have a lot of respect for him," Layman said of Dekker, who was a second-team All-Big Ten selection as a sophomore last year.

Not that Layman, whose statistics this season (13.6 points, a team-high 6.6 rebounds) are slightly better than Dekker's (13.1 points, 5.1 rebounds), is looking at his expected matchup with the now 6-9, 220-pound junior as an individual battle.

"I look at it as just playing a great team in Wisconsin," Layman said after practice Sunday. "My only focus right now is on this game, not just one player. They have more than just one great player, they have a really great team. I can't think about one-on-one matchups."

Just as the Terps have seen their collective profile raised dramatically with their first national ranking in five years and current Big Ten standing — Maryland is tied with Purdue and Michigan State at 10-4 for second place behind the Badgers, who have already clinched a share of the title — Layman also has gained more attention, twice winning Big Ten player of the week.

Layman, who is one of 16 players being considered for the first Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year award, said he barely has noticed.

"I don't really pay attention to that, that just goes to show how great a job coach [Mark] Turgeon has done with the team that we have now, especially with the new guys coming in, it's not about me at all," Layman said. "It's about the team and how well we play together."

Though he still has a tendency to defer to senior guard Dez Wells and, at times, freshman point guard Melo Trimble, Layman has been one of Maryland's most consistent players, scoring in double figures in 24 of 27 games. Dekker has been a little less consistent, getting double figures in 20 of 26.

While Layman has improved his rebounding and is a more versatile offensive player, he knows that his ball-handling needs to get better. With 54 turnovers, Layman is second only behind Trimble and has 11 in the past three games, including four in Thursday's 69-65 win over Nebraska.

"In terms of something I need to improve on, definitely ball-handling for me, I know that's going to have to be a big part of the game," said Layman, who is projected to be a small forward or even shooting guard by NBA scouts.

Said Turgeon: "The thing where he's gotten better is [in the] post defensively, he's gotten better at rebounding. He played '4' in high school a little bit, it's been a good position for him here. It's worked out really well for Jake. He's gained a lot of confidence. He's a really good college power forward."

Layman, who has put on 15 to 20 pounds since coming to Maryland, knows that he is not thought on in terms of his physique as Malone once was during his legendary NBA career.

"It shows how the position has evolved in college basketball," Layman said.

How far Layman has come might be evident Tuesday, when an old teammate shows up at Xfinity Center.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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