Feature photo courtesy of Lauren Anikis/Stories Beneath the Shell.
With a little over three minutes remaining, Maryland found itself down 64-63 to Oklahoma State, clawing back from a 12-point deficit.
Jaylen Brantley saw a lane, and he took it.
Brantley received the ball and noticed his man off balance. He put his head down, breezed by Jawun Evans and welcomed the contact from Lindy Waters. Brantley shifted the ball from his left hand to right, fully extending his arm to guide the rock to the rim as he floated.
He found himself seated on the floor, and Maryland found itself in the lead.
Brantley’s acrobatic and-one capped his 12-point performance, the second-highest output of his Maryland career. The game acted as a statement: Jaylen Brantley means business.
His success has continued. He followed his coming-out party with 14 points and four 3-pointers against Howard, and versus St. Peter’s his five rebounds tied for the most of any Terp.
After the Oklahoma State game, Brantley said this year he feels like he belongs, something he didn’t feel a season ago.
“I think my whole mindset has changed,” Brantley said.
Last year, Brantley might not have made that drive on Evans. But with his new mindset, he plays more aggressively.
“I feel more comfortable on the court,” Brantley said. “I feel Coach [Turgeon] has more confidence in me, and my teammates have more confidence in me. That makes me feel more calm on the court.”
Melo Trimble said it started in practice.
“He was new to the team, so I guess he didn’t feel it was his space to talk,” Trimble said of Brantley last season. “But this year he’s been around the block. We all know what Jaylen can do, and he’s showed us in practice that he can be a good player for this team and another leader.”
And become a leader he has. Mark Turgeon said Brantley has taken a leadership role the last two weeks, but his style contrasts Trimble’s. While Trimble prefers a quieter approach, Brantley doesn’t mind raising his voice.
“He’s always the loudest in the gym,” Anthony Cowan said.
Cowan said Brantley holds everyone accountable, and it’s what he likes about him.
“When he sees someone lacking or not doing something right, he always speaks up and tries to help them out,” Cowan explained. “He’s not doing it in a mean way, trying to get down on people. He’s doing it trying to help you out.”
Brantley wants to set the standard.
“I think if I’m the vocal leader of the team, everybody will follow my lead when I’m playing hard or practicing hard,” he said. “I think it’s contagious.”
Trimble said the entire team has taken notice.
“He’s always communicating. Coach Turgeon sees that, and everybody sees that,” Trimble said. “He’s showing how he can be a player on this team.”
Brantley is scoring more, but the stats don’t fully explain his increase in minutes. Poor defense had him in Turgeon’s doghouse in the first month of conference play last season. Now, it’s what’s keeping him on the floor, and even Turgeon didn’t see it coming.
“He’s actually a little bit more than I envisioned,” Turgeon said. “I saw him as a shooter and kind of a leader. He’s still a great shooter, he’s a leader, but he’s been a really good defender for us and a great team defender.”
Brantley must deal with a natural disadvantage: his height. At 5-foot-11, he’s Maryland’s shortest scholarship player and often the smallest on the court. Turgeon said his understanding of the game and work ethic are making up for his size.
“We always told him, at your height, you have to play harder than everybody,” Turgeon said, “and that’s what he’s doing.”
Turgeon thinks Brantley could have a future on the bench after his court days are over.
“He has a great feel for the game, how it flows and what our team should do,” Turgeon explained. “He could be a really good coach someday.”