When Maryland's Melo Trimble was forced out of the West Virginia game in the NCAA Tournament, Mark Turgeon was left scrambling trying to find a ball handler who could handle the press; however, he never found his answer, and the Terps were knocked out. With expectations sky high for the 2015-16 season, the Terps had to improve the depth at the guard position. Having Melo Trimble as the only true point guard, Maryland had to bring in another legitimate guard. The Terrapins solved this problem before the 2014-15 season even began, when Jaylen Brantley committed to the Terps on Oct. 20.
There's a lot of unknown when it comes to Jaylen Brantley, so here's what we know: Brantley played on the same AAU team as Jake Layman, he played in junior college last year and still has three years of eligibility remaining, and finally, he played a big role in getting Diamond Stone to commit to Maryland. Most of us don't know what type of player he is, or what he'll bring to the team. Furthermore, we don't even know how Turgeon plans to use him, or what he believes the team is capable of.
When Maryland received its first commitment from the 2015 class, it had yet to even prove the talent it had on the court. This, however, did not stop Brantley from seeing the potential.
"I knew they had a good team when I went on my visit, just watching them, and I knew that they could be successful," he said in a phone interview. "I felt like it was the right time and the right fit for everything," Brantley said when asked about his decision to commit to Maryland before its on-court success.
As the season went on, Brantley – like many fans – kept a close eye on the team and its games. He watched the team go from unranked, to working its way up polls, to upsetting Wisconsin, and then to the NCAA Tournament.
With these performances, and other big names joining the team next year, it has Brantley excited to play with some of these players. "Melo [Trimble], because he can score in a lot of different ways; so I think if I play on the ball and he's off the ball, he can score in a lot of different ways. Jared [Nickens] is a really good shooter. I've played with Jake [Layman] in AAU before, so I already know how he plays – it would be fun to throw him an alley-oop." Brantley commented eagerly, "Then they also have the addition of Rob [Carter] and Diamond [Stone] at the same time."
A lineup that includes both Trimble and Brantley is something that has been discussed by Mark Turgeon. According to Brantley, "Turgeon's talked about me playing off the ball and Melo [Trimble] at the two because he can score in a lot of ways, as the country saw this year. It benefits him more than it probably does me. Also, Coach Turgeon said I could play the two a lot this year, it just depends on how he feels and how things are going in the game at that moment," Brantley said when asked about his role in the offensive side next year.
Brantley is confident he can contribute immensely to not only the offense, but to the whole team. When asked what his strengths were, Brantley said, "I'm a good leader. I can really shoot. I like to get my teammates involved and I try to do whatever I need to do to win." Brantley displayed his team mindset by saying, "I'm not really ever looking to score 20 [points] or anything like that, just trying to do whatever I need to do to win and help the team as much as I can."
He is also aware that he must continue to put in the work before being able to achieve in the B1G conference next year. He said before he comes to College Park, the biggest thing he'll be working on is "getting stronger and getting a little faster because the B1G is a physical league, and I know what it takes to go up against the best players in the country every night. Getting stronger is going to be my main focus."
This interview was conducted one day after the news was announced that Rasheed Sulaimon was coming to play for Maryland next season as a graduate transfer. I asked Brantley what Sulaimon can bring to the team, and he said, "He'll bring a lot of leadership. He's been there before, and knows what it takes to play at that level. Also, another scoring option, and a lot of defense to the team next year." I was also curious as to if Sulaimon's presence will impact the role that he has in the offense next year, and Brantley's response was, "honestly, I have no idea. We're going to have a lot of great guards next year, so there's going to be a lot of different combinations on the court next year. It'll work out fine, everything will gel. If we put all the pieces together, and work as a team, we can go as far as we want to."
Another big-time name is coming to Maryland is coming in the front court. We've already mentioned that Brantley played a role in bringing the prized gem, Diamond Stone, to the Maryland team, but what was Brantley's recruiting pitch to Stone? "It was our first time meeting each other at Maryland Madness, but we had a connection and we knew that we could be really good next year. I also told him that with Melo and Jake, and the team coming back next year, I told him that we could win next year."
Brantley is aware of the high expectations for next year, and had this to say about them, "I think they're great because none of us have been on a team like this, besides Sulaimon, as far as being in college on a number one team, so I think it'll be good. It could be bad at the same time, but I think we all have the same mindset. We all want to win. So we have to work just as hard, just like the underdog to do what we need to do to win because everyone is going after the goal of winning the championship."
With the sports pundits and analysts placing their own expectations on Maryland's team, I wanted to know Brantley's expectations for the 2015-16 team. "My expectations for the team, overall, what I think we should achieve as a team is to get to the Final Four and see what happens from there. We have a great team, we have a good group of guys, so I think that would be something to really look forward to." I also asked him about his expectations for himself. "Personally, for myself, I want to make everyone around me better, make myself better, improve on and off the court, be ready to go when my number is called, and push everybody else to be the best that they can be."
Brantley is already demonstrating for the team his mentality that they must have in order to be successful. Although this will be his first year in College Park, expect him to be a leader both on and off the court. He sounds humble, often mentioning the team and other players before himself during the interview. On the court, Brantley will add depth and contribute outside shooting, and get his teammates involved. He has expressed a desire to win, no matter how much he scores, he wants to win. With that attitude, expect winning results from Jaylen Brantley, and from your 2015-16 Maryland Terrapins.