From Rejection to Acceptance
A Kenyon Martin feature penned during the forward’s time spent in Cincinnati.
Martin got the score, but he didn’t become academically eligible until January 2 of his freshman season, so he only played 22 games that year. And it wasn’t as if you could call him a serious scoring threat. He took just 40 shots all season, but he made 26 of them. As for his range, well, consider that nine of his baskets were dunks. That was about it. Anything outside of three or four feet from the basket was considered a risk. And anybody who could make a foul shot could have owned Martin in H-O-R-S-E, since the frosh made just 31 percent of his tries. Dreadful, indeed.
Nobody ever stays a freshman, and Martin was no exception. Just as pimply-faced dorks become fine young gentlemen and sometimes even get the girl, Martin’s shot improved. These days, he’ll rise up from 15-18 feet, looking as natural as any other shooter, and drain the J. When he takes people outside, they had better be serious about defense, or he’s gonna rain it down on them. “I think his offensive game has developed a lot,” says one Western Conference player personnel evaluator. “He’s very comfortable shooting the mid-range shot. He’s not just a low-block player.”
Huggins had no doubts that Martin would become a better shooter, even if the prickly coach did deliver some high-decibel reviews of his young player’s performance. Anybody who worked as conscientiously as Martin did had to get better. Take that raw athletic ability and add long hours in the gym, and you have a winner. So many of us are blessed with skills and then crap out in the hustle and desire department. But if you put in the time and effort, you’ll be rewarded. Add in natural talent, and you have a future NBA millionaire.
“Hard work and listening helped him,” Huggins says. “You can shoot a thousand shots, but if you’re doing it the wrong way, you’re not going to get any better. He’s a great kid who puts in the time and works at it. Since he was blessed initially with great physical skills, he was going to succeed.”
“No matter what you’re doing, it you want it and work at it and have the desire to do it, good things will come,” Martin says.
You have to think the realization hit Martin last summer, when he actually led the U.S. World University Games team in scoring. Now, this wasn’t a group of jokers, put together by USA Basketball just to keep the international scene going while negotiations went on with agents and ambassadors for the latest Dream Team. Check out some of the teammates he had: Erick Barkley, Cory Bradford, Chris Carrawell, Mark Madsen, Chris Mihm, Scoonie Penn and Michael Redd. And who leads the way with 13.9 ppg? That’s right. Oh, and just for good measure, Margin averaged a team-high 6.6 rpg and shot 62 percent from the field, also a U.S. best.
“That let me know I could play with some of the best players,” Martin says. “That’s when I got most of my confidence. I figured if I could lead that team in scoring, I could score anywhere.”
Martin’s performance in Spain showed the college basketball community that he was more than just a snarling defender. Suddenly, Cincinnati foes didn’t have to worry about Martin at just one end, where Martin entered the season as the defending, two-time Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year. He could score, too. Oh no. And so, the Bearcats opened their ‘99-00 torture chamber, with the scowling Martin as their Master of Discipline. Those opponents stupid enough to challenge him inside were quickly sent on their way, often picking leather out of their teeth. Then came the real trouble. Martin from the foul line. From the baseline. From the low block. And then there were those savage dunks. Hey kids, want fame and fortune? Want a complete game? Want to kick some serious butt? Then stick around for four years and grow bigger and stronger than all those young punks who think they’re The Men. Money’s nice, but there can be fewer things more rewarding than stomping the spirit out of some poor scrub.
“The tone that he sets for their team is amazing,” Buford says. “Every night, they come out ready to bust your ass. The way they’ve started games this year has been outrageous.”