Saturday, February 1, 2003

Catching up with Kenyon Martin


Ex-Bearcat leaves injuries behind, moves to brink of NBA stardom

By Dave Goldstein
Enquirer contributor

TORONTO - After Kenyon Martin suffered through two serious injuries in two seasons, basketball insiders wondered if he ever again would be the same dominating player he was most of his college career with Cincinnati.

He wouldn't. Not only has Martin recovered the form that made him the consensus college player of the year for the 1999-2000 season, he has gotten better.

The image of Martin's first injury was jarring - the best player in the nation fell to the ground with a fractured leg late in the season, ruining the Bearcats' national-title hopes and possibly hurting Martin's chance of becoming the first pick in the NBA draft. But it was his second injury, a break to the same leg that cut his rookie season 12 games short, that could have had the worst ramifications.

Martin recovered from the initial injury quickly enough to be taken first overall in the 2000 draft by the New Jersey Nets and become an early front-runner for the NBA's Rookie of the Year award. Martin's early success indicated the injury might have been a solitary stumbling block on his way to a great career. But with the second fracture, suffered at the end of March 2001, Martin's potential could have gone unrealized as he flirted with earning the dreaded label of "injury-prone."

Instead Martin is on the brink of stardom. He remains a fantastic defender and continues to expand his offensive game. He started all 44 of New Jersey's games this season heading into Friday night's game with New Orleans.

How has he done it?

"I worked, and hard work pays off," Martin said. "I just went out and put the time in. That's all you've got to do."

Last season was a critical one for Martin. He formed a powerful duo with Jason Kidd, and New Jersey went from 26 wins the previous season to 52 and advanced to the NBA Finals.

Although the Nets were swept by the Los Angeles Lakers for the championship, the playoffs were a return to the limelight for Martin. He improved his scoring average from 14.9 points a game in the regular season to 16.8 in the postseason and ended the run with a 35-point performance in Game 4 of the Finals.

Martin is averaging 14.4 points and 8.6 rebounds this season and continues to progress.

Nets coach Byron Scott is quick to point out how Martin has made a conscious effort to improve his rebounding average, going from 5.3 in 2001-02 to 8.6 this season.

Martin also has expanded his shooting range and is a legitimate threat to hit a 20-footer.

But don't think Martin is getting soft or venturing outside to favor his leg. With Kidd feeding him the ball, Martin has earned respect as one of the league's most ferocious dunkers. Though he splits time on the highlight reel with teammate Richard Jefferson, Martin's superiority on the Nets in that aspect of the game is unquestioned.

"Kenyon Martin is definitely, without a doubt, the best power dunker on this team," Jefferson said. "I try to do a lot of finesse stuff, but that guy just tries to dunk right through people."

Unfortunately for his fans, Martin's skills will not be on display at the NBA's All-Star weekend Feb. 8-9 in Atlanta. He will not join Jefferson in the slam-dunk contest, nor was he selected for the All-Star Game. But for Martin, playing for his team is enough.

"I don't hang my hat on (individual accomplishments)," Martin said. "I go out and do my job - if people recognize what I do, great; if not, oh well. I'm not going to cry about it."




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