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Color me delightedly surprised with how Jake Layman has played in the FIBA Americas U-18 tournament. When he was invited to the USA U18 tryouts, I didn't think he'd make it but expected it to be a good experience. Then when he actually made it, I wasn't expecting him to get much playing time but thought the practice would be good for him long-term. Shows how much I know, I guess.
Instead of just being a warm body, he's been a star so far for the national team, with game-highs in rebounding and scoring in his first two games respectively. In the dominating, 105-42 win over the U.S. Virgin Islands, Layman pitched in seven points and a game-high 10 rebounds, despite playing only 14 minutes. That earned him some more deserved playing time in today's comfortable 110-59 victory over Mexico, where he controlled matters with a game-leading 18 points.
Now, admittedly, Mexico and (especially) the U.S. Virgin Islands are poor competition, probably not a significant step up from the sub-par opposition he faced in high school. But he's not merely looking like he belongs; he's outperforming some very, very, very good players on the US team, and that shouldn't go unnoticed. If you're still not convinced, the USA will play a half-decent Brazil team tomorrow at 6:00, which should give us a much better picture of where Layman's development stands. (Still, I'm not sure they'll get a real challenge until facing Argentina and Canada in the playoff rounds.)
It's early to say this, but it's summer and I'm bored so I'll say it anyway: if Layman really is this far ahead (and it's much farther ahead than I expected him to be, if I'm being honest), what's the chance he starts right away? If Pe'Shon Howard can't go early in the year you'd expect his odds to be pretty good; even if he can, though, I can't help but wonder if the Nick Faust - Layman wing combo that some have been talking up might be the best option, even right away. That's a lot of length, and if he settles in alright things will get mighty interesting toward the latter end of the season.