Junior college point guard Jaylen Brantley (Odessa College/Odessa, Texas) admitted Oct. 20 he didn’t know what he was supposed to be feeling. Joy for committing to the University of Maryland that morning, following his official visit to College Park, Md.? Grief because he lost one of his best friends less than 48 hours earlier, while on said visit? Something in-between?
“This is really, really tough for me,” the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Brantley, a Springfield, Mass., native said of his friend who died in a car accident Oct. 18. “There’s a lot of stuff going through my mind. I didn’t really know what to do, what to think. But I’m with my family now, and we decided to go ahead with [my commitment to Maryland] and stay as respectful as possible to my friend. He was one of my best friends from home, someone I grew up with, went to high school with. He was a brother to me, and it’s just really tough to lose him. But I am excited about Maryland, and excited about the direction of the program.”
Although Brantley didn’t have any contact with Maryland prior to Terps assistant Dustin Clark initiating it a couple months ago, the junior college point knew a good amount about the program. His good friend, Jake Layman, whom he played AAU ball with for powerhouse BABC, was a Terp, and Brantley tuned in to watch him whenever UMD games were on ESPN.
Brantley, who played his high school ball at Notre Dame Prep (Wilbraham, Mass.), stayed in touch with Layman via text the last couple years, but he didn’t think he’d actually have a chance to play with him again.
“You know, we’ve always been great friends, and he always seemed to like it at Maryland,” Brantley said. “And when [Clark] started recruiting me, I immediately told Jake, and we would just go back and forth about how cool it would be if I came there.
“And now, if Jake doesn’t go to the NBA next year, I’m going to have that chance – that’s wild. It’s going to be great to play with him again. He was my host on the official, and it brought back a lot of memories from the past. We were saying how we won a championship with BABC, and hopefully we can do that again at Maryland.”
Brantley began inquiring about College Park, Md., following Clark’s open-gym visit during the recent live period, and then started researching the program in earnest once head coach Mark Turgeon showed up at the Texas community college too. And after Maryland’s head man, impressed with the junior college guard’s abilities as a pass-first floor general, extended a firm scholarship offer, Brantley probably knew more about his program than most casual college basketball fans.
“Maryland is a great atmosphere for college basketball. I knew that before [the official] visit, and after [the official], I confirmed it,” said Brantley, who was a non-qualifier out of Notre Dame and spent a year prepping at Marshall before leaving for Odessa when the Thundering Herd’s staff was fired. “They play in a great conference in the Big Ten now, and but they had a great tradition in the ACC before that. Maryland has produced a lot of very good basketball players, and I believe they are going to develop me too. Coach Turgeon and all those [staff members], they’re going to help take my game to another level, and hopefully I can help them win big.”
Obviously, Brantley was sold on the staff and the school. All it took was a short 48-hour visit to College Park with his family (mom, Angela, and uncle, Kerny) to turn this former Marshall pledge from Big East country into an unabashed turtle supporter.
It’s true, he didn’t have any other firm offers, but programs such as SMU, TCU, Wichita State, Illinois and SMU had inquired and more scholarships were bound to materialize down the road.
“But I decided not to wait. I knew Maryland was the place for me; it’s everything I could want, and they’re going to treat me right there,” said Brantley, who will have three years to play at UMD.
During the visit, Brantley, naturally, spent a good amount of time reconnecting with Layman. Layman had already given Brantley plenty of insight prior to the Oct. 17-18 visit, but the two-day official allowed the Odessa product an opportunity to see first-hand what his friend was talking about -- and to meet his teammates as well.
“Jake, Melo [Trimble], Jared [Nickens], Robert Carter – they were all really cool. I loved talking to those guys, and I feel like I’ll fit right in,” Brantley said. “They were saying how Coach Turgeon is true to his word, and how he’s not going to steer me wrong. They all believe Coach Turgeon has the program moving in the right direction.”
Turgeon, Clark and the rest of the staff did their part as well. Brantley was already highly impressed with Maryland’s head coach and his recruiter, Clark, since the trio had stayed in touch regularly the last month-plus, so this weekend interaction merely confirmed his feelings.
Brantley said Turgeon came across as a genuine, driven individual who knows what it takes to win. He said he has a clear blueprint and vision for Maryland basketball, and believes with the right pieces the Terps can once again be a national contender.
“Coach Turgeon was saying how excited he is for me, and how Maryland is going to be a great place for me to develop. And Coach Clark, he was wonderful throughout this process, and just wonderful with my family,” Brantley said. “What really stood out to me was how Coach Turgeon was saying how big of a role I could have there, and how I’d have a chance to be real special.
“Basically he was saying how me and Melo can play off each other, and how Melo can play the ‘2’ too. He said I can get everyone involved, and how we’re going to have great players there around me. He said I could really help them get the program back to where it needs to be.”
The UMD staff and players sold Brantley on Maryland, but he and his family enjoyed the more peripheral aspects of the school as well. Brantley mentioned the Maryland Madness event, the homecoming football game, the campus in general, and also the fact College Park isn’t too far from his Massachusetts home.
“The atmosphere at the Madness event was wild. It was wonderful. I liked how they showed off their offense a little bit at the end, I liked how they brought out the girl’s team, and it was cool to see Coach Turgeon dancing and all that,” Brantley said, laughing. “The football game was great, too, with the fans and them [the Terps] getting the win. It’s a great campus, a great place to be. I really feel comfortable there.”
It’s no secret Maryland had tried its hand at several other class of 2015 point guards, only to come up short in its pursuit of Bryant Crawford (Gonzaga/Washington, D.C.), Justin Robinson (St. James, Md.) and Glynn Watson (St. Joseph/Westchester, Ill.). Brantley isn’t naïve; he was well aware going he didn’t pop up on the Terps’ board until later during the recruiting process. But now, with his questions answered about his role at UMD, he’s out to prove he can be every bit as effective of some of those higher-rated prep point guards.
“Playing in the Big Ten, I know I have to get bigger, because it’s a war every night in that conference. That’s one thing I’ll have to work on. But I’m a pass-first point guard, I can get everyone involved and I consider myself a leader on the floor,” Brantley said. “I’m coming there to contribute and show everyone what I’m capable of. After talking to Coach Turgeon, Coach Clark, I’m going to have that opportunity, and I’m really excited about it."
By Oct. 18, Brantley already knew he wanted to be a Terp. But he placed recruiting firmly on the backburner after learning of his friend’s death. Brantley left College Park a little early in order to fly home and pay his respects. And while he has a heavy heart, Brantley said he has much to be thankful for, and is eager to return to College Park.
“Maryland has the right pieces, and this year some of the younger players will get experience, but they have a bright future,” Brantley said. “I’m going to try to come in there and do my part in helping them get back to the Final Four.”
Heavy-Hearted Brantley Ready For College Park
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