Friday, March 10, 2000

'It's broke,' and team's in a fix

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Kenyon Martin leaves the Pyramid in a wheelchair.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        MEMPHIS, Tenn. — On the way to the Campbell Clinic, he laughed. Kenyon Martin made jokes to dull the pain.

        They're good at Campbell, among the best orthopedists in the country. But Martin didn't need the experts in Suite 850 to tell him his leg was broken. He knew it as soon as he hit the floor.

        Martin went down and the gym went numb. The sound of disbelief was a dull whir, the noise from the generators keeping the building cool. The few thousand at The Pyramid were mostly UC fans. When they realized it was Martin on the floor, it got so quiet you could hear a championship drop. You could see the blood drain from Bob Huggins' face.

        “What's wrong?” UC trainer Jayd Grossman asked.

        “It's broke,” Martin said.

        He was setting a screen. Martin caught his right leg beneath him and torqued it. “A freak thing,” UC team doctor Angelo Colosimo called it. “More of a football injury.”

"I'll be all right'
        It looked that way. It looked like every football player you've ever seen blow out a knee when his foot wouldn't turn on the artificial turf. “A Joe Theismann-type injury” was how Richard Conley described it.

        Conley is the father of Martin's fiancee, Fatima. Fatima was on a plane for Memphis when Kenyon broke his leg. The family was picking her up at the airport after the game. They were staying the weekend.

        Martin arrived at the clinic's eighth-floor offices on a gurney, propped up, his legs extended, smiling still. “I'll be all right,” he said.

        He will. Either Sunday or Monday, a surgeon in Cincinnati will put a screw in his right fibula. He'll recover completely in two to four months. He'll still be an NBA lottery pick.

        The University of Cincinnati Bearcats, though, they won't be all right. You can lose a chance at a national championship any number of ways. Christian Laettner can beat you on a miracle three-pointer. Lorenzo Charles can take an airball and dunk it at the buzzer. Fred Brown can make a bad pass, Chris Webber can call a timeout his team doesn't have.

        This UC team, though, has had its magic carpet pulled from underneath its feet even before it started to ride. They were leading St. Louis 8-7 with 16:56 to go in the first half. It was a meaningless scrum for the Bearcats.

        Then everything changed. It's broke. The UC swagger, the muscle-flexing aura, the men-in-black image. Broke. No one will fear them now.

"He's a warrior'
        For all their outward toughness, the Bearcats' psyche is bone china-fragile. It was held together by their overwhelming talent and by Martin, who played like a linebacker. He gave them more than Player of the Year numbers; he provided their personality as well.

        “Just his presence on the floor would have won the game,” Pete Mickeal said. Maybe so.

        “He's a warrior. He fights through everything. I didn't want to deal with reality. I still don't,” Mickeal said. “There has to be some way he can get back. But I guess not.”

        Martin hadn't missed a game or a practice in seven years. As John Redden made two free throws with 23.8 seconds left, to ice the St. Louis win, Martin left the floor in a wheelchair. You can't put a better, sadder face on a very good season than that one.

        “You have very few chances in life to be special,” Huggins would say later. “This was their chance.”

        They still have it; they'll play again in a week. But the best part of them fell Thursday. It was a long way down. And a damned shame.

        Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.

Join the discussion in our UC forum
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'It's broke,' and team's in a fix
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What game? Martin's injury took heart out of Bearcats
Is UC's loss Ohio State's gain?