By Dave Lomonico
It was a weekend full of highs and lows for junior college point guard Jaylen Brantley (Odessa College/Odessa, Texas). The 5-foot-11, 175-pound Springfield, Mass., native took what he called an “outstanding” official visit to Maryland Oct. 17-18, but on the night of Oct. 18 he learned one of his best friends had died in an automobile accident.
Brantley left College Park, Md., early for Massachusetts, although he did ultimately commit to Mark Turgeon’s program on the morning of Oct. 20. Brantley was not immediately available for comment following his UMD pledge, although his mother, Angela Cayode, who accompanied her son on the visit, confirmed the commitment.
“Jaylen did just commit to Maryland, and we’re very, very excited about it. But he’s with family right now, because this death [to his friend] has rocked his world,” said Cayode, who was joined on the College Park trip by her brother and Brantley’s uncle, Kerny Cayode. “It was a horrible death, and it’s heartbreaking because this [the commitment] was such a big moment for Jaylen, and then this [the accident] happened. He was very excited about Maryland, but he doesn’t want to take away from the person he lost and their family.”
Brantley, a former Marshall pledge who left the program for Odessa when the Thundering Herd’s staff was fired, had hinted he could commit in recent weeks. The Odessa guard was thrilled when Terps assistant Dustin Clark came to watch him play during the open period, and then began researching the program in earnest when head coach Mark Turgeon followed suit. Eventually Turgeon extended a firm offer, and it became clear after that UMD was the team to beat -- so long as the official went well. Brantley did not have any other offers, but programs such as SMU, TCU, Wichita State, Illinois and SMU were intrigued.
“Jaylen, myself and his uncle, who has a big role in Jaylen’s life, were all very impressed. We loved everything about Maryland,” Cayode said. “Coach Turgeon was very kind and very gracious, and Coach Clark, he was the first person to recruit Jaylen, [Brantley] was blown away by him. [The coaches] let us know they had a need for a point guard, and thought Jaylen would fit the mold there.
“We know in this team, under Coach Turgeon, they’re working towards a common goal. It’s a great system there with the boys, from a basketball perspective and also academically.”
Cayode went on to describe the official visit, where Terps wing Jake Layman, who knew Brantley from his AAU days with BABC, hosted the trio. She said her son enjoyed meeting different people in the athletic and academic department, as well as other current Terps. Cayode noted how comfortable her son seemed on campus, and how much in awe he was of the Comcast Center.
Reconnecting with Layman, though, helped put Brantley’s mind at ease about the program.
“Oh Jake was great; Jaylen and Jake were talking for hours,” Cayode said. “They were hashing old memories from the road, talking about their old AAU coach, sharing old war stories. They were sitting there in the airport for like five hours just reliving those old boy stories (laughs). Jaylen’s really happy to be reunited with Jake again."
The family was able to watch Layman and the Terps take the floor during Maryland Madness Oct. 17. The next afternoon, they watched the football team defeat Iowa on homecoming, 38-31.
“We had a lot of fun at the games, and Maryland has some great fans there,” Cayode said. “We had a great time seeing Coach Turgeon doing a cute little dance at Maryland Madness; that was neat to see (laughs). The football game was a lot of fun, too. Jaylen loved it there.”
Even so, the family did have questions for Turgeon and Co. before Brantley pulled the trigger. Namely, would Brantley, who will have three years of eligibility remaining, have a significant role with the team? And, two, would he be recruited over?
“We asked the questions, and after getting the answers, we’re confident Jaylen is going to the right place,” Cayode said. “We’re confident this is the right decision and the right program for him.
“And one other big thing for us was the academic support there. We can’t let history repeat itself (Brantley did not qualify out of high school and had to prep at Marshall). That [academics] put a huge dent in Jaylen’s future before, and this time we’re getting it right. At Maryland, it’s an efficient system with competent people, and they put a lot of emphasis on getting it right in the classroom. Academics are very important for Jaylen, and that’s something Coach Turgeon put a major emphasis on during the visit.”
Cayode continued to harp on the relationships the family formed during their short stay in College Park. Perhaps more than anything else, she said those instant bonds resonated with her son, leading to his commitment.
“Jaylen comes from a big family, and Maryland is like an extension of the family we have here. We wanted him to feel comfortable, and he definitely is. We had no doubt about that after the visit. Plus, for me personally, it’s close to home. It’s a six-hour drive, but only a 50 minutes flight, so I’m excited to see him play.
“We know we’ll be watching [Brantley and Maryland] cutting down the nets in a couple years.”
Terrapin Times reporter Dan Painter spoke to Brantley's uncle, Kerny Cayode, who accompanied the Odessa point guard and Angela Cayode on the official visit. Here are Kerny Cayode's comments:
"Coach (Mark) Turgeon and Coach (Dustin) Clark were gentlemen throughout the whole process," said Keryn Cayode. "And I don't just mean during the visit. They did a great job of spelling out exactly how Jaylen would fit into the system and how he could help the program. It (Maryland) was just a great situation for Jaylen. We watched the team play, and it was obvious that they need more depth at point guard. (Melo) Trimble is going to be an excellent player, but he's capable of playing off the ball too. Jaylen's a pure point, he's a pass first type point guard, but you can't leave him open. If you do, he will make you pay."
Cayode continued to describe how this all played out.
"First of all, Jaylen wanted to go to a school where he would be needed," said Cayode. "He'll have three years of eligibility, and other schools were interested, but we felt that Maryland really showed us how badly they wanted him. It wasn't just about coming back to the East Coast, or getting closer to home (Springfield, Mass.). It was about finding a school which would be a good fit. Maryland needed a guard who can get people the ball in position to score. But they also like the fact that Jaylen is a great open shooter (44 percent 3-point range as a senior at Notre Dame Prep). Jaylen will be able to compete immediately....getting with the strength and conditioning coach will help him, but he's a tough kid. He's about 5-11 or 6-0, and he's athletic enough. We just think Maryland is a great place for him to continue his career."
We asked Cayode about Brantley's mindset now, considering the whirlwind emotions facing him with the commitment, but having lost a close friend over the weekend in an auto accident.
"Jaylen's got a lot going on right now as you can imagine," said Cayode. "He's thrilled, as we all are, with his decision to go to Maryland, but on the other hand, he lost a true brother on Saturday, and that's tough on anyone, especially a kid that young. He's back here in Springfield for the funeral and it's a tough time for him. So it's been the best of times and the worst of times in a matter of just a couple days."
Brantley Blown Away By UMD, Commits
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