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The skinny, nervous and quiet freshman who could barely put two good halves — or two sentences — together is long gone, replaced by a buffed up, confident and conversant senior who is expected to be a leader on one of the nation's best college basketball teams.

Jake Layman's transformation at Maryland has been quite noticeable.

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The only member of this year's team to have spent his first three seasons with the Terps — transfers Robert Carter Jr., Rasheed Sulaimon and Varum Ram are the team's other seniors — the 6-foot-9, 215-pound forward has returned to his natural position on the wing with hopes of continuing to show the skills that made him a third-team all-Big Ten Conference selection while playing as an undersized power forward last season.

"I'm excited to get back to the 3 [small forward] and kind of work on things and kind of showcase things I wasn't able to last year in terms of ballhandling, playmaking, coming off more screens," Layman said at the team's media day last month. "I think for me, that's going to be exciting. I think for this team to have that post presence that we were lacking in the past is going to be big, a lot of open shots for shooters and creating a lot of mismatches."

Layman's growth has mirrored that of the program.

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By the time the Maryland Terps might play the Kentucky Wildcats, they'll be much better than they are now.

After being a part-time freshman starter on a rebuilding team that won 25 games and advanced to the NIT semifinals, after watching the team take a couple of steps back in a tumultuous 17-15 season as a sophomore, after playing a leading role in last season's 28-7 surprise that ended with the first NCAA appearance under coach Mark Turgeon, Layman takes pride in the part he has played in Maryland's return to the national stage.

"For me, it's very rewarding to see and be a part of what this program has become in the last three or four years," Layman said. "I'm just excited for coach Turgeon because he cares so much about this program and about the players, this is just so well-deserved for him. … Being a senior, it's obviously big for me. I want this team to do well and I'm excited for what's to come."

Along with the rest of the No. 3 Terps, Layman is hoping to show some of that when Maryland opens the 2015-16 season Friday against Mount St. Mary's at Xfinity Center.

It was evident in the team's 91-55 exhibition victory over Division II Southern New Hampshire last Friday. With freshman center Diamond Stone displaying preternatural post moves in a 16-point, five-rebound debut and Carter attracting double-teams en route to a 12-point, 10-rebound double-double, Layman hit four of the eight 3-pointers he tried, got to the free-throw line twice (hitting three of four) and finished with 15 points in 22 minutes. He also had six rebounds.

"He knows that it's his last run at it and he's really improved in all areas," Turgeon said of Layman during a visit to MedStar Harbor Hospital on Tuesday. "Basketball-wise he's improved. Emotionally on and off the court, he's become a better leader. That's what you hope for from your seniors, something that triggers in their mind that 'This is my last go-around and I've got to make the best of it' and he's done that so far."

Out of position

Layman was moved to power forward to start last season after senior Evan Smotrycz broke his foot. Layman then became Maryland's second scoring option behind freshman point guard Melo Trimble after senior guard Dez Wells broke his wrist. Taking advantage of his smaller opponents and his quickness against bigger teams, Layman was in double figures 19 times in Maryland's first 20 games, including career-highs of 23 points and 12 rebounds in a win over Michigan State Jan. 17 at Xfinity Center.

After Wells returned for the Big Ten season, Layman saw his scoring dip from nearly 15 points a game to barely 10 points a game and his shooting percentage drop from a shade over 50 percent to 37 percent over the last 15 games. Layman's rebounding numbers also fell, as he was worn down from playing against stronger, true power forwards. A late-season case of the flu, which caused Layman to lose more than 10 pounds, also didn't help.

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Layman spent the offseason working on his upper body and gained around 20 pounds with a 7,000-calorie-a-day diet. His sometimes-erratic ballhandling and inconsistent shooting last season had made some NBA scouts doubt that his schools would translate to the next level. Layman is projected to be a late first-round or early second-round pick in several mock drafts.

Not all of his transformation is physical. Much has to do with Layman's mental approach and being more assertive on the court. He previously might defer to teammates such as Wells and Trimble.

"I think whenever I touch the ball, I'll be looking and trying to score," Layman said of the biggest difference in his mindset. "Ultimately, for me personally, playmaking is going to be big. The ball is going to be in my hands more, so I think being able to make the right play, see the defense and become a lot more efficient scorer is going to be big."

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Layman acknowledged that he gave some thought to leaving last spring for the NBA around the time that Trimble was contemplating doing the same thing. If Trimble decided to stick around in order to show he could be a lead guard in the NBA — his passing and defense are still a question mark — Layman wants to prove that staying in college for four years isn't a negative.

"I was kind of worried about the whole stereotype thing and how seniors don't do well when it comes to the draft," he said. "Then looking up a couple of things, I realized that's not an issue at all. I came back this year to showcase more things in my game that people haven't seen before and I think I'm going to surprise some people."

Said Turgeon: "Jake made the right decision to come back. It gives him more opportunity. And it's okay to go four years to school. I think more and more guys have stayed four years and have been drafted and done well. Hopefully, Jake becomes the next guy so he can help the next guy that's in that same boat. It's beneficial for some kids, especially Jake, who came in so skinny and had a lot of work to do on his game."

A leader now

The biggest surprise this season might be watching Layman talk demonstratively to his teammates on the floor and in the middle of huddles.

"I think from the end of last season until now, I've come a long way in my leadership," said Layman, who along with Carter, Trimble and eventually Sulaimon will share the leadership role played mostly by Wells the past couple of years. "Being more vocal is definitely a big thing. Being able to talk to each guy in the way they needed to be talked to is big for me. Guys kind of trust me and come to me when they need something."

The three players who arrived with Layman as part of a highly-anticipated 2012 recruiting class — center Shaquille Cleare, power forward Charles Mitchell and point guard Seth Allen — are gone. They transferred amid the mass exodus after the 2013-14 season that ultimately helped the Terps rebuild from a bottom-tier Atlantic Coast Conference team into the national championship contender Maryland expects to be this season.

"To me, I think my mindset the whole time was 'I'm not going to pack up and leave when things go bad,'" Layman said, "I think it's definitely paid off for me and the program for where we are now. I'm excited to get this year going to show people it's all coming together."

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