Martin hoping to make most of opportunity
HUNTINGTON - When a college basketball coach refers to a season as a marathon, it's tough for most players to see much past the starting line.
But Marshall guard Chris Martin, he gets it. He learned the hard way last season.
Then a freshman just out of high school, the 6-foot Martin's season stat sheet was littered with the ominous phrase "DNP - Coach's Decision." He was stuck at the end of the Thundering Herd's bench, closer to coach Tom Herrion's lightly worn jacket than to Herrion himself.
That notation stuck to 13 of Martin's first 20 collegiate games. By the end of game No. 23, he had played exactly 23 minutes on the season.
In the 24th game, that number almost doubled. With DeAndre Kane back home in Pittsburgh on bereavement leave, Martin put in 22 minutes in the Herd's 78-68 win over East Carolina. Those weren't in vain - he fired in three 3-point goals in six attempts against the unsuspecting Pirates.
He knew he was going to return to being a bit player, but he had renewed confidence in his abilities.
"That just comes from working hard in practice and being ready, and confidence," Martin said. "When I first got here, I wasn't playing a lot. My confidence, it went down a little bit. I wasn't used to that.
"But as I went in practice every day, I got used to going against guys like [Damier] Pitts and [Shaquille] Johnson, my confidence went up. When they call on me, I'm ready - I feel like Pitts and Johnson, those guards were better than the majority of the guards we played against. Why can't I go out there and compete, too?"
He didn't play more than seven minutes in a game the rest of the season, but he showed up in the Conference USA tournament, in the 105-100 triple-overtime win over Tulsa. He had to.
No, really, he had to get in the game and stay in. When Johnson joined four other teammates with five fouls, a well-rested Martin entered with 34 seconds left in the second overtime, forming an unlikely lineup of Martin, DeAndre Kane, Dennis Tinnon, Dago Pena and Jamir Hanner, with only JP Kambola left on the bench.
In the third overtime, Martin hit a 3-pointer and assisted on the game-turning basket, a four-point play by Pena with 2:20 left.
Martin has had eight months to build on that milestone moment, and stands to get more minutes when the Herd opens its season Friday night at Cam Henderson Center. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m.
Pitts and Johnson have exhausted their eligibility and moved on. Kareem Canty, one of two guards Herrion recruited out of high school, has initial eligibility issues that likely will not be ruled upon by Friday night.
On that top of that, Herrion has not decided if Kane will play. He and Nigel Spikes were held out of last week's exhibition game on that all-encompassing "coach's decision," with no further elaboration offered.
With DeVince Boykins out for a few more weeks, that would leave Martin, Tamron Manning and swingman D.D. Scarver as the available guards, point or otherwise. Martin started and played 29 minutes, scoring 14 points with two assists and a steal.
Much like Kane's status, nothing is guaranteed for Martin.
"We've got options," Herrion said. "That's part of my job, and that's part of the nature of this business. It's not a perfect situation, but it's one we'll adjust to day by day, this second. Hopefully, there will be a decision at some point, but we can't control what we can't control."
Defense can provide the most challenging adjustment for junior-college transfers, but Elijah Pittman knows just enough to know when it's bad.
More than once, he has brought up the subject of transition defense and how much the Herd must improve on it. MU struggled with it against Bluefield (Va.) College, and apparently didn't do much better in its closed scrimmage with Winthrop last weekend.
At the Division I level, it's a lot more complicated than just outrunning your opponents into your defensive end.
"It is, when a lot of guys forgetting which man is theirs, just running down the court like a chicken with his head cut off," Pittman said. "We've got to get back and knowing, and talking."
By NCAA rule, Herrion can't comment on the scrimmage, but he got to the point about his team's transition defense after the exhibition last week.
"It was awful, it was bad," he said. "It will get better. They've got to see it on the film to see that. But we're still trying to extend the floor defensively; we want to pick it a little different than we've done in the past, so there were some breakdowns in that regard. We'll clean that up immediately."
Herrion's call-in show begins at 8 tonight, originating from Gino's Pub and Family Fun Center. Hosted by play-by-play announcer Steve Cotton, the show can be heard in Charleston on WVTS, 950-AM.
When Herrion's show resumes on Nov. 29, it will revert to 7 p.m. Tonight, it follows football coach Doc Holliday's call-in show, which begins at 7.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.