Jake Layman leaned back in a chair far too small for his 6-foot-9 frame, wearing cozy moccasin slippers and flannel pajamas unwrapped for Christmas back home in Massachusetts. Those precious few days at his Wrentham house five minutes from the Rhode Island border provided a break from the rigors of basketball and class. The freshman needed a clear head before returning to College Park. He needed to figure out what type of player he would become.
Any New England stereotypes Layman brought down Interstate 95 have since been shattered, at least among his teammates and coaches. The swingman absorbs criticism better than most, internalizing the message and storing it for fuel. Lately, however, there’s been plenty for Layman to collect.
The slowest among Coach Mark Turgeon’s four prized freshmen to adjust to the college game, Layman’s minutes have remained in flux entering Tuesday’s nonconference finale against IUPUI with ACC play lurking around the corner. Already lagging behind the other members of Maryland’s 10-man rotation, academic issues sidelined Layman for the first half against Monmouth, so he returned home seeking a soul-search and the answer to one personal question.
“It really got me to sit down and think what kind of player I want to be,” Layman said. “Do I want to be the one who makes a mistake and hangs my head? Or do I want to be strong and fight the whole game?”
Before Turgeon released the Terrapins for Christmas break, he called Layman’s parents. Claire and Tim Layman were varsity athletes together at the University of Maine, but still sought Turgeon’s advice for handling their son’s return.
“I said just be positive with him,” Turgeon said. “It was good for him to go home. His family gets it. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Had his two best days in practice, didn’t finish the way he wanted to finish it, but up until that point we all saw the Jake he was capable of being. He’s nowhere near where he’s going to be.”
In Saturday’s first half, Layman looked rejuvenated, splashing a step-back baseline jumper and ending the half with a nifty back-door layup. With three minutes left in the period, Layman followed up a miss by Charles Mitchell with a soaring putback dunk, finally displaying the athleticism hyped since arriving from the United States under-18 national team this summer. He finished with seven points, most since a career-high 10 on Dec. 5.
In recent weeks, Layman has stayed late after practice, working with assistant coach Scott Spinelli and graduate assistant Eric Hayes on defensive closeouts, or with teammates Nick Faust and Evan Smotrycz to hoist extra shots.
“He always works hard,” Pe’Shon Howard said. “He’s very open to criticism. Every day, after the coaches are getting on him, he doesn’t mind staying after doing the extra work. He’s really positive even though they’re really on him. They see his potential and know how good he can be. It’s really refreshing.”
Unlike Alex Len and Mitchell, who have needed heightened conditioning to get back into shape, Layman has bulked up over the holidays, pursuing a similar transformation as Len did this offseason. Most importantly, Layman has remained realistic. Disappointed with the slow start, he recognizes that careers aren’t made in 12 nonconference games.
“I think Jake Layman’s going to be one of those guys like Alex. I hope it happens over Christmas, but if it doesn’t, then from the end of the season to his sophomore year,” Turgeon said. “They don’t know what they’re getting themselves into their freshmen year, they have no idea. They show up, try to play as hard as they can. But they start to think a little more. I think he can have a monster spring and summer like Alex did.”
Layman has endured offensive droughts before, shooting just .341 from the field this season and .192 from beyond the arc. Layman’s self-diagnosis? Passivity on the wing, waiting to receive passes rather than creating for himself. The academic issues also trickled onto the court, creating an unnecessary distraction since rectified.
“It was a good learning experience for me,” Layman said. “It turned into me not doing well on the court. Getting the first semester over, I’m looking for a fresh start.”
When: 3 p.m. Radio: WTEM (980 AM). Where: Comcast Center.
Records: Terps 11-1, Jaguars 6-11.