Bet you never thought you’d read that headline.
Given the talent the Maryland men’s basketball team brings in on a yearly basis, Jaylen Brantley does not exactly fit the bill. He never earned five stars, and wasn’t even recruited by Mark Turgeon before spending time at junior college in Texas. He served as a role player on an uber-talented squad last season, averaging 8.4 minutes per game. Nobody expected much to change heading into this season. Maybe there would just be more dances for the man of “Running Man” fame.
Instead, Brantley’s minutes, rebounds, assists, steals and points per game all doubled this season. Considering he competes for time at point guard with one of the NCAA’s best in Melo Trimble, that’s not too bad. On top of that, electric freshman Anthony Cowan also sees time in the backcourt—yet Brantley continues to improve and contribute.
Though 5.4 points and 2.5 assists isn’t the clip at which a star plays, Brantley’s output is important for the Terps. He gives Trimble and Cowan, the two starters, a breather every once in a while. However, his best contributions come as a spark plug. That is what separates him from the role he played last season.
How can you not love Jaylen Brantley at this point. He's Maryland's best bench player and it isn't close.
— Matt Ellentuck (@mellentuck) December 27, 2016
Despite their 16-2 record, the Terps struggle at times. Close games marked by silly mistakes and inefficiency have plagued them. In a lot of those games, they’ve escaped unharmed, and that is why they sit atop the Big Ten. Thank Jaylen Brantley for some of those instances.
The Terps trailed Oklahoma State by 12 points with 11 minutes to go on Dec. 3. They orchestrated a comeback, and won 71-70. In that game, Brantley played 22 minutes, tied for the most he’s played all season. He scored 12 points, including a layup giving Maryland their first lead since trailing by 12. Simply, he provided the spark.
The same can be said for Saturday against Illinois. He scored 13 in a rout of the Illini in December, and, as the Terps sputtered, he came off the bench to score 12 points. He also added six rebounds to drag the Terps to a 62-56 victory.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said after team's win that Jaylen Brantley gave us "confidence, noone else could make a shot except him."
— Don Markus (@sportsprof56) January 15, 2017
Brantley is not the star of this team. He isn’t even considered among the five best players, if you think about it that way. However, what he provides for the Terps is unparalleled. Brantley will continue to come off the bench, but he will continue to be a key player for the Terps as they look to run away with the Big Ten.