COLLEGE PARK — On their recent media day, some of the Maryland basketball players made like heavyweight boxers, flexing their biceps and striking poses of exaggerated toughness for photographers.
But not Jake Layman.
"Want me to smile?" Layman asked politely. He spoke so softly that a camera man had to strain to hear him.
It's not that Layman, a 6-foot-8 freshman, doesn't have loads of ability and ambition. He's an integral part of a promising freshman class that will debut when the Terps host Indiana University of Pennsylvania in an exhibition game Friday night.
It's just that, off the court, the forward is unassuming and deferential. The sense from Layman and his coaches is that there is a ferocious basketball player lurking inside of him and waiting to be released — and it's Maryland's job to prod it out of him.
"If you put him in a room with 100 kids, you would never guess who the Division I basketball player is," said Sean McInnis, Layman's former coach at King Phillip Regional High School in Massachusetts.
Layman said basketball has long been his refuge — a medium in which he feels comfortable expressing himself. He not only played in high school, but periodically spent weekend days mentoring kids and teaching them the game.
"I was always usually a quiet kid," he said. "Basketball is my time to show I can go crazy on the court if I want to."
He particularly loves to dunk. Invited to try out over the summer for the U.S. Under-18 team, Layman said he didn't quite feel like himself until a big dunk.
"It was in one of our scrimmages. I had a dunk on [Auburn-bound] Shaq Johnson, and that really got my confidence up and I started to play well," said Layman, who made the team.
His Maryland teammates say they have seen glimpses of Layman's potential in practices.
"He's probably one of the most athletic [small forwards] I've ever seen for 6-8," said teammate Charles Mitchell, also a 6-8 freshman. "He can shoot it, he can dribble it, he can post up. He can do everything a [power forward] can do, but he's more versatile because he can play the wing as well. He's like [former Duke forward] Kyle Singler, but way more athletic."
While Mitchell and several other Terps lost weight in the offseason to gain mobility, Layman said he has added 12 pounds — he now weighs about 202 — so he can avoid being pushed around in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"Don't let him fool you," said teammate Shaquille Cleare, a bulky, 6-9 freshman. "Jake knows how to get down and dirty. He's going to become one of the top small forwards in the ACC."
But Layman said he's not quite ready to play down low in practice with Cleare, who weighs about 270.
"He's the biggest guy I've ever seen. He's just a monster down there," Layman said.
Layman is trying to broaden his game. He wants to become more aggressive and improve his dribbling, which he knows would enhance his NBA prospects.
"I saw Jake Layman play a great deal in high school," said former Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg, now an analyst for ESPN. "He's a wiry, sneaky quick athlete who has the ability to shoot it with range. He needs to be able to get it off a little quicker. But he's a terrific defender — he's got quick feet and he's long."
Layman was recruited by Florida and Louisville, among other schools. His comfort level with Maryland derived partly because his father's family is from the Randallstown and Bel Air areas. It didn't hurt that Maryland assistant coach Scott Spinelli is from Massachusetts and knows the state well.
"Him talking about some of the same places I knew in Mass — it was cool," Layman said. "I had kind of a homey feel with him."
Terps head coach Mark Turgeon considers Layman an ideal basketball student — a coachable freshman still finding his identity.
"He is quiet, unassuming, shy — not sure of himself around adults, maybe. I think when he's around his peers, he's a little more outgoing," Turgeon said. "That's what's great about coaching college. You get these kids and you get to work with them."
Turgeon said the college game "is moving too fast for Jake right now. But he gets more comfortable every day. And his upside is tremendous." The coach compared hisLayman's game to those of former NBA forwards Bobby Jones and Tom Chambers.
Layman was asked recently what NBA player he hoped to emulate.
Characteristically, Layman did not select a big star. Rather, he picked a Houston Rockets forward who was a second-round pick and averaged 9.5 points per game last season.