Wednesday, March 10, 1999

Is Martin's mind on NCAA or NBA?

Tournament play may determine center's pro plans

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Kenyon Martin's recent slump has clouded his hopes of being an NBA lottery pick this year.
(Saed Hindash photo)

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        In Kenyon Martin's immediate future is the NCAA Tournament. In the not-too-distant future, there is the NBA. How long he lasts in the tournament may be connected to how shortly he'll be moving on to the league.

        A 6-9 junior center with the Cincinnati Bearcats, Martin is considered a candidate to leave UC after his junior season and enter the NBA Draft.

        He has not finished his third year at UC with the sort of flourish that would create an intense demand for his services among the pro folks, slumping enough that coach Bob Huggins discussed with Martin whether he was preoccupied with where he'd be playing next season.

        “It's possible,” Huggins said. “He says not.”

        Martin began a slump of sorts with the early-February road trip that sent the Bearcats tumbling toward a No. 3 NCAA seed. He has not scored more than 11 points or hit double figures in rebounds since Jan. 30, when the Bearcats defeated UAB. He averaged 8.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in their final 10 games.

        Although Martin said he has not made up his mind about next season, he does not believe the NBA issue has been a problem.

        “I don't try to let stuff like that bother me, because I'm still here and I still have games to play here,” Martin said. “So I don't think that has anything to do with it.”

        The No. 3-seeded Bearcats (26-5) would love for him to be fully focused on their advancement in the tourna ment, which begins with a first-round East Regional game against 14th-seeded George Mason (19-10) at Boston's FleetCenter.

        It has been an curious season for Martin, who has had games where he shot 20 times — as he did in scoring 18 points to help defeat Dayton — and several others where he shot three times or less.

        He grabbed 16 rebounds against Rhode Island and 15 against UAB, but he only got one in the DePaul loss and none against Minnesota.

        He had seven blocks against UNLV, six against Rhode Island and Xavier and five in wins over Houston and DePaul, but came up empty in four of his final five regular-season games.

        His numbers declined in every major statistical category from his sophomore-year production but assists and steals, and yet his presence was such a factor in UC's league championship he was named first-team All-Conference USA.

        As the Bearcats went 6-4 in their past 10 games, Martin averaged 3.0 personal fouls and was disqualified three times. “I think, in a way, I'm just letting it bother me knowing I

        can pick up a cheap foul at any moment, and it can be my third or my second or something like that.

        “I'm not going to blame it on that totally. I think that has a little to do with it. Honestly, I don't know what it is otherwise. I'm just not doing what I'm capable of doing. I'm not demanding the ball, not doing things like that.”

        In UC's loss to UNC Charlotte in the semifinals of the Conference USA tournament, Martin recovered from a difficult first half to score eight consecutive points and lift the Bearcats from a four-point deficit to a 51-all tie. When UNCC shifted to a zone defense that made it difficult to get him the ball, UC scored just one point.

        “It's just wanting the ball, wanting to be the dominant player on the court at all times,” Martin said.

        “I think that little stretch helped out a lot. Now, I've got my confidence back where I'll want the ball all the time, be demanding the ball.”

        Huggins said Martin has had two excellent days of practice in preparation for the George Mason game.

        “It's just being more aggressive, I think,” Martin said. “Just coming out with the mindset that I'm not going to let none of that stuff bother me, like the fouls and things like that.”

        Huggins has spoken with pro scouts — three in the past two days — who generally were glowing in their assessments of Martin's athletic talent and improved skills.

        But if all the underclassmen who are expected to leave college follow through — Duke's Elton Brand and William Avery, St. John's forward Ron Artest, UCLA guard Baron Davis, Rhode Island forward Lamar Odom, among others — the scouts who admire Martin's athletic ability would be less enthusiastic about having their teams select him in the lottery portion of the draft.

        “All of a sudden, he's not a lottery pick anymore, and he's looking at five years of a crummy salary,” Huggins said. “These guys are high on him, but they're higher on other people.

        “Everybody says he's lost weight and everybody says he could use another year to work on his skills. You look at all the people coming out — what does that do for you the following year?

        “I'm for him, whatever he decides. I just want to see him make an intelligent decision. Which I'm sure he will. As you know, he's a great kid.”


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