Maryland's Jake Layman, right, blocks a shot by Virginia… (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
COLLEGE PARK — Jake Layman has the face of a choirboy and the kind of build that would make a nutritionist throw up his hands and say: "Please! Somebody get this kid a quarter pounder with cheese! And more fries!"
He's not much of a talker, either. In interview settings, he can make Joe Flacco sound like Jay Leno by comparison.
But Layman can ball. And after struggling to find his game the past two months, the highly touted 6-foot-8 freshman finally broke out in Maryland's 94-71 win over Virginia Tech on Saturday.
Here's the beauty of the whole thing: Layman didn't find out he was starting until just a few minutes before game time.
That's when the coaches told him sophomore guard Nick Faust (City) was a no-go with back spasms.
Imagine Layman's mind-set. Atlantic Coast Conference opener, full house at Comcast Center, noise level like a 747 at lift-off. And now Mark Turgeon has just smacked him on the butt and said: "You're in there, kid. Go get 'em."
How did he handle the news? Just about how you'd expect.
He wanted to hurl.
"I was nervous at first," Layman said. "But once I got in there and started playing and saw the crowd, it was awesome."
Nervous wreck or not, it was Layman who got the Terps off to a roaring start, hitting a 3-pointer from the baseline and a tip-in off a miss by Pe'Shon Howard for a 5-0 lead.
And when it was over, when the Terps had just about run the Hokies off the floor and signalled that they could make some noise in the conference this season, Layman had himself a glittering line: 20 points (18 in the first half), eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks in 29 minutes.
And when the media descended on him after the game and asked him why he had played so well and how he had morphed back into the player the Terps expected him to be when they recruited him, Layman shrugged and went Joe Flacco on us again.
"It's ACC time," he said simply. "And we all just stepped up."
It was about time Layman stepped up — way past time, if you want to know the truth.
He was a four-star prospect, after all, rated the 17th-best forward in his recruiting class last year while at King Philip Regional High in Wrentham, Mass.
After 6-8 forward Shaquille Cleare, he was Mark Turgeon's most celebrated recruit. And he had padded his resume last summer by playing on the U.S. team that won the gold medal at the FIBA Americas under-18 championships.
But he struggled with the adjustment to big-time college ball from the very beginning.
Struggled to get open. Struggled to find his shot. Struggled to bang with stronger players inside. Struggled to play the demanding, in-your face defense that Turgeon demands from his players.
He even struggled with his classwork, Turgeon benching him for the first half of the Monmouth game after he failed to turn in a term paper.
No one was ready to call Layman a bust after only 13 games. Turgeon and his assistants could see his huge upside. But for a player with such a high basketball IQ, Layman's struggles were baffling.
"I think Jake was struggling because he had such high expectations," Turgeon said. "Because he made that under-18 U.S. team put even more expectations on him. Was I concerned? Yes, but I [also] wasn't concerned because he kept practicing hard every day.
"And he went home for Christmas and he re-grouped. He's got great family. And we believe in him. I started coaching Jake a little bit different. He doesn't need to be screamed and yelled at. He just needs to be coached. So we started doing that. And today was just a huge day for him."
Ask Layman and he'll tell you getting away from campus during the break was what helped tun his game around.
Back home in Massachusetts, he cleared his head and tried to assess his game as honestly as he could.
"Going home for four days, it helped me think about what kind of player I wanted to be and how I could help this team," he said.
And what was his conclusion?
"I needed to score the ball more than I was," he said.
So that's what he did against the Hokies, flying around the court to get open, knocking down shots with confidence, mixing it up for tip-ins with the big boys inside.
Again, it was a break-out performance. It was the Jake Layman the Terps had been waiting to see.
Now we'll see if he can do it again. It would sure make Mark Turgeon's life easier this season.
Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a. m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."