Saturday, March 11, 2000

Martin's will not broken


'I'm not disappointed with anything I did. I was satisfied with the way I played to this point, and I wouldn't take anything back about coming back to school.'

BY JOHN FAY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[martin]
Kenyon Martin and his fiancee Fatimah Conley arrive at the airport from Memphis Friday. Pushing Martin is Dr. Angelo Colosimo, who operated on him. Coach Bob Huggins walks behind them.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        Dr. Angelo Colosimo, the surgeon who repaired Kenyon Martin's right leg Friday, has absolutely no doubt that Martin will play long and prosper in the NBA.

        That is not simply a medical opinion; Dr. Colosimo knows as much about Martin's character as he does about his bone structure.

        “When you do what I do, you deal with athletes at all levels,” said Dr. Colosimo, director of the University Sports Medicine Center of Cincinnati. “Ten athletes with the same injury will react to it differently. Kenyon Martin has the right mind-set. He's never given up on anything in his life. People have given up on him, but he's never given up on himself.

        “He has the perfect mind-set for dealing with this.”

        Martin's injury, suffered three minutes into the University of Cincinnati's Conference USA Tournament game Thursday against St. Louis, ended his season. But it should have no effect on his professional career.

[martin]
Huggins speaks to Martin.
(AP photo)
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        “I'd rather have him have this than blow out a knee,” Dr. Colosimo said.

        Friday's surgery took only 30 minutes. Dr. Colosimo repaired the ligaments around the ankle and inserted a dissolvable screw to stabilize a fracture in the fibula.

        Martin should be able to work on shooting in two or three weeks and begin running in two to three months.

        “All he was worried about was if he could travel (with the team to the NCAA Tournament),” Dr. Colosimo said.

        Martin will be able to travel with his teammates. When he returns, he'll start the long road back to the form that made him the best player in college basketball this season.

His motto
        When Martin needs inspiration during rehab, he only has to glance down at his left forearm, where the newest of his four tattoos runs from the wrist to elbow in large Japanese letters.

        “Never Satisfied” is the message and Martin's theme for life.

        “You can't be satisfied,” Martin said in a lengthy interview about his life before the injury. “No matter what.”

        That hunger to be satisfied drives him. Martin is a blue-collar type on the court — playing rugged defense, grabbing rebounds. And he did it so well that he will almost certainly be named college basketball player of the year, despite the injury.

        “If he doesn't, there ought to be a criminal investigation,” UC coach Bob Huggins said.

        Martin, a 6-foot-9 senior from Dallas, would be the first UC player to be named player of the year since Oscar Robertson won his third consecutive award in 1960.

        The manner in which Martin became a dominating player bodes well for his return to form. Kenyon Martin is a self-made star, who in an age of huge NBA salaries spent another year in college playing for free to become the best in the country.

The big decision
        The decision to pass up a million-dollar contract was made quickly.

        “It wasn't a thing we talked about a lot,” said Martin's older sister, Tamara Ridley. “We only talked about it once.”

        “It wasn't a hard decision at all,” Martin said.

        But it was a big decision for Martin and UC. When Martin and Ms. Ridley sat down and decided the center would return to play his senior year and not declare himself available for the NBA draft, UC became the early favorite for the 2000 national title.

        The championship was the reason Martin came back.

        Chances of that greatly diminished when he crashed to the floor Thursday. But he doesn't have any regrets.

        “I'm not disappointed with anything I did,” Martin said. “I was satisfied with the way I played to this point, and I wouldn't take anything back about coming back to school.”

        As things turned out, it was also a good career move.

        Martin, who would have likely been a mid-first round pick last year, could still be the first pick overall.

        “He made $6 or $7 million by staying,” Huggins said, “and that's a low-end estimate.”

        Dr. Colosimo expects to get calls from team physicians from around the NBA.

        “Sports medicine is like a fraternity,” Dr. Colosimo said. “They'll say, "Ang, how is he?' I'll say, "Fine.' He's going to making millions of dollars next year.”

        That Martin did the right thing and returned to UC should not be a surprise. Every time he has had to make a tough choice in his life, Ms. Ridley and his mother, Lydia Moore, have gently steered — or firmly pushed — him in the right direction.

        “They never let me get on the wrong track,” Martin said. “Me not going to school, me not doing the things I was supposed to, they never tolerated that.”

        “We wanted what's best for him,” Ms. Moore said. “We've always had high goals for him.”

        With their help, Martin ends his college basketball career as the best player in the country. With their help, and his never-satisfied drive, the dream of a becoming an NBA star is now within reach.

        “The thing with me coming back was I knew I could get better,” Martin said. “You never want to sell yourself short.”

So far, so fast
        Martin wasn't a top five, or even top 10 recruit out of high school. He was a raw talent. Strong on defense, where a player can get by on quickness and athleticism. But when it came to offense, where finesse is required, Martin's skills fell between few and none.

        “Three years ago, we didn't guard him,” South Florida coach Seth Greenberg said. “He was self-checked.”

        Martin scored 26 field goals that year — nine of them on dunks.

        “He wasn't skilled at all,” Huggins said. “He was very athletic.”

        This season, Martin proved he was a threat from 17 feet and in. He could go either way off the dribble.

        “He typifies why it's a good decision to stay four years,” said Marty Blake, the NBA director of scouting. “He's matured physically, emotionally, and some people would say most importantly, he's made himself a lot of money. To me, that's not the most important thing. The most important thing is he'll get his degree.”

        Martin's family saw it the same way. They placed his education and development as a player first.

        “We're not a rich family,” Ms. Ridley said. “But money wasn't the issue.”

Start in Saginaw
        Kenyon Lee Martin, was born Dec. 30, 1976, in Saginaw, Mich.

        His father, Paul Roby, was a former basketball player at New Mexico. Kenyon remembers seeing his father only once.

        “I was nine or 10,” Martin said. “It was for a few minutes.”

        Ms. Moore knew a single mother raising two children in Michigan during a recession would not be easy.

        “When the GM plant closes,” she said, “the small businesses close up, too.”

        So Ms. Moore moved the family south to Dallas. She worked two jobs. Ms. Ridley who is 31/2 years older than Kenyon, was often left alone with her little brother.

        “They were latchkey kids before anyone knew what latchkey kids were,” Ms. Moore said. “She was always very protective of him.”

        Ms. Ridley was the first person Martin asked for after the injury. She rode in ambulance to the hospital with him Thursday.

        Martin suffered from a stuttering problem as a child. He's overcome the problem, but it had a lasting effect.

        “He wasn't so much shy as he had the problem with his stuttering,” Ms. Ridley said. “That made him a little withdrawn.”

        Martin's refuge was sports. He played football, basketball and baseball as a child. When he was 10, his youth basketball team went to the world championships in Helsinki.

Diamond in rough
        Martin grew up in football territory. He also attended three high schools in four years. But a player with his talent level gets noticed.

        Connecticut, Kansas, Arizona, Kentucky, Syracuse all were interested. But UC came in early and went after Martin the hardest.

        Former UC assistant coach John Loyer, who recruited Martin, never saw him play a high school game before UC signed him. Loyer was convinced after seeing Martin playing AAU ball before his senior year. Loyer was also sure Martin could handle things in the classroom.

        “Kenyon's a bright guy,” said Loyer, now the head coach at Wabash Valley College. “He's a hard worker. And he's a really good guy.”

        Moving from school to school, Martin didn't get a lot of help from his high school guidance people.

        “No one put him in the right classes,” Loyer said. “He ended up taking 10th grade English as a 12th grader because he needed it for a core course.”

        Some schools weren't willing to sign Martin, because they were unsure if he would qualify academically.

        UC was willing and the gamble paid off.

        Martin passed all the core courses and graduated from Bryan Adams High with his class.

        But he needed a qualifying score on an SAT or ACT test to be eligible his freshman year at UC. So Martin enrolled part-time in 1996 at UC and kept taking the test in an effort to qualify by mid-season.

        Through the fall of his freshman year at UC, Martin spent three days a week prepping for the SAT test from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

        This was his toughest period. He was homesick and sick of studying.

        He went back to Dallas at one point. Ms. Ridley was working two jobs and going to school at the time.

        “I used myself as an example for him,” she said. “I had to work so hard to make ends meet. I said, "You have to strive for something. You have this opportunity.'”

        Martin climbed back on a bus and headed back to Cincinnati.

        He passed the test, making him eligible to play. That first season he won the team's academic award for his performance in the classroom.

        Three years later, he's on schedule to graduate this summer with a degree in criminal justice.

        “He'll do it,” Ms. Ridley said. “He promised me and my mother.”

"A' in Basketball 101
        Martin was a starter by the 14th game of his freshman year, a major accomplishment for someone who missed all of the preseason drills.

        Credit that to a high basketball IQ.

        “Conceptually, he understands the game of basketball very well,” Huggins said shortly after Martin joined the team. “You tell him something, he's able to visualize what you're saying. Then he goes out and does it.”

        Martin was not a star his freshman year, averaging only 2.8 points and 3.4 rebounds.

        But he learned.

        “He played with some great players,” teammate Pete Mickael said. “(Danny) Fortson, (Ruben) Patterson. That gets you ready because they compete so much. He learned how to play solid defense.”

        Martin came in at 205 pounds as a freshman. He's bulked up to 230 in his four years at UC. That has given him the muscle to complement his athleticism.

        “He's so much stronger,” Huggins said, “especially in the legs. People can't push him off the block. Things that bothered him last year don't this year.”

        Martin says Huggins also has been a key to his success.

        “I don't think if I went anywhere else, I would have matured the way I have,” Martin said. “I don't think I would have become the man I've become.”

The big jump
        Martin was a much different and improved player this year. He took the step from very good to the best in country. Never was that more evident than in the DePaul game March 2.

        The Bearcats were down by 10 points with less than four minutes to play and in need of a leader. Martin took over. He scored four straight baskets and blocked a shot to will UC to victory.

        That's all part of never being satisfied.

        “We could have given up,” Martin said. “But we didn't.”

        He finished with a career-high 33 points and eliminated any lingering doubts who would win the nation's top honors.

        “That game kind of cemented player of the year for him,” teammate DerMarr Johnson said.

        Opponents fear him but can't avoid him.

        “We wanted to go away from him,” Memphis coach Johnny Jones said. “But he found where we were.”

The image game
        Mostly, Martin keeps to himself off the court. He spends most of his free time with his fiancee, Fatimah Conley, a student at Xavier.

        His passion other than basketball is movies.

        “I like to try to see them before anyone else,” he said.

        “It would surprise you how good Kenyon is at picking movies,” teammate Ryan Fletcher said.

        But mostly, he's a homebody.

        “Our days used to consist of me cooking and him laying on the couch watching TV,” Ms. Ridley said.

        Martin is not shy on the court. He pumps his fist. He flexes his muscles. He poses after dunks.

        “People might say, "He's arrogant,'” Martin said. “They might say he's this or that. I'm just having fun.”

        Until Thursday.

        Without Martin, a national championship for UC is a long shot. But it's one Martin would bet on.

        “This team can still win it, and I'm going to be there with them,” Martin said Thursday. “We can still play six games. I'll be there with them through whatever happens.”

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