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It’s time for Butler’s Kelan Martin to shine in the spotlight

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Kelan Martin is a ‘Butler Guy’.

Through and through.

He’s spent the majority of his playing career somewhere between underrated and overlooked. His work ethic is what has gotten him to where he is right now, an NBC Sports midseason second team all-american averaging 17.4 points for a top 15 basketball team. He fell in love with the program and the campus and Hinkle Fieldhouse on his visit, and stayed with the program despite seeing Brad Stevens leave for the NBA his senior year of high school and Brandon Miller take a leave of absence and never return when he finally made it to campus.

And if it wasn’t for Martin being lazy for his first three seasons of high school ball, we may never have known that Butler and Martin were a match made in heaven.

You see, Martin is from Louisville. He grew up a Louisville fan playing on one of Louisville’s powerhouse high school programs alongside Louisville’s starting point guard, Quentin Snider. There was every reason in the world for Martin to end up a Cardinal as well.

Except, you know, Louisville didn’t think he was good enough. Kentucky didn’t, either. Neither did Indiana. None of those programs recruited him. He didn’t even get a call from the in-state schools.

“It doesn’t rattle me or anything,” Martin says, and it didn’t rattle him at the time, either. His motivation for getting in shape and changing his body and improving his game wasn’t to prove John Calipari wrong or to make Rick Pitino regret recruiting his high school teammate and not him.

He did it because, quite frankly, he had to.

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“I didn’t know what was coming [at the next level] until colleges started to come and recruit me,” Martin, who stands 6-foot-6, said. Once he realized that, at a chubby and out of shape 235 pounds, he was never going to be able to be a guard in college like he wanted to be. He knew “I had to change my body, change my diet.”

As a senior in high school is when Martin started to put in the work. As a freshman in college is when he really started to see the results.

“We were on him about his body composition and becoming a fitter, better athlete,” head coach Chris Holtmann said. “Our first year as interim staff we really challenged him with that and he did a great job before his sophomore year, he was leaner than he is now. He does a good job taking care of his body, eats right, I’ve been really pleased with how much of a priority he’s made that.”

Martin has dropped 15 pounds in total, but the change has been about more than just the weight. His body fat is down to seven percent. He can run a mile in under 5:30. According to Holtmann, Martin pays as much attention to his diet as any kid he’s coached. It ruined Martin’s wardrobe.

“I gave those clothes to a bigger friend back at school,” Martin said with a chuckle.

While having to shell out the money to buy pants that fit isn’t ideal, the on-court results are what matter, and Martin has been terrific leading a team that was predicted to finish in the bottom half of the Big East to a position to earn a top four seed in the NCAA tournament.

And while it’s easy to look at his stat line and say that this is happening because the Big East’s leading returning scorer has put a team on his back, the reality is much more nuanced.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 17:   Kelan Martin #30 of the Butler Bulldogs celebrates during the 83-78 win over the Indiana Hoosiers during the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on December 17, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Kelan Martin (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Martin has always been able to put up points. As Holtmann put it, “he can roll out of bed and score.” In the fourth game of his college career, Martin scored 17 points in 17 minutes in an upset win over No. 5 North Carolina. He scored eight points in 51 seconds in the NCAA tournament as a sophomore to put away Texas Tech. This year, he popped off for 28 points in a win over Indiana despite going scoreless for the first 15 minutes. Ask Holtmann, and he’ll be able to give you a dozen more examples of where letting a bucket-getter be a bucket-getter won Butler a game.

“I think he can score at the very highest level, and I’ve had to learn how much freedom to give him because I haven’t coached a guy that needs that level of freedom,” Holtmann said. “So it’s been an adjustment for me, and something that I’ve had to learn is sometimes you just have to be like, ‘Ok, I’m going to shut my eyes on that shot.'”

“We have about one of those a game,” Holtmann added, chuckling.

What makes this season different is that this is the first time in Martin’s career that he’s been ‘the guy’. In high school, he was always Snider’s sidekick. As a freshman, he played 14 minutes a night on a team that was a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament, a bit player asked to provide instant offense in limited minutes. Even as a sophomore, a year where Martin averaging 15.7 points and was named second team all-Big East, he spent most of the season coming off the bench while playing sidekick to Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones.

This year, everyone is keyed in on him.

“He knew the attention he got last year is completely different than what he’s going to get this year,” Holtmann said. “We talked about it. There’s going to be some difficult moments for him and you have to respond the right way.”

And the results have been mixed. Through four Big East games, Martin is averaging just 13.3 points while shooting just 32.7 percent from the floor and 22.7 (5-22) percent from three. But the Bulldogs have managed to post a 3-1 starting in league play, losing a road game to St. John’s but managing to hand Villanova their only loss of the season.

How?

Part of it is that Butler is a team with a number of different pieces that can win them a game. Backup big man Nate Fowler did it on Saturday at Georgetown. Backup point guard Kethan Savage did it last week against Villanova. Freshman Kamar Baldwin has been terrific. Andrew Chrabacz is one of the most unique weapons in the Big East. Butler is anything but a one-man team.

But the other part of it is that Martin isn’t just a scorer anymore.

“He’s impacting the game in other ways and committing himself to impacting the game in other ways,” Holtmann said, specifically mentioning the overtime road win against Georgetown, when Martin got to the free throw line nine times and grabbed 10 defensive rebounds.

“He always had the reputation of being a scorer who could be streaky, and the other parts of his game are growing,” Holtmann added. “It’s fun to see.”

And it’s fun to watch, even if most people outside of Indianapolis don’t know they need to look.

“I do feel like people don’t know who I am, but I just continue to compete,” Martin said. “I’m trying to lead my team out there, get the [Butler] name out there for us. I don’t really care about the national attention as long as we win.”

Smiling, Martin added: “But that brings it anyway.”

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 17:  Kelan Martin #30 of the Butler Bulldogs reacts in the second half against the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at PNC Arena on March 17, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Kelan Martin (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Arizona lands Pitt transfer forward Ryan Luther

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Arizona landed a key addition for its frontcourt on Wednesday as Pitt transfer forward Ryan Luther pledged to the Wildcats.

The 6-foot-9 Luther is expected to receive a hardship waiver that would give him immediate eligibility, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com, as Arizona gets some much-needed help up front.

Playing in 10 games last season before a stress reaction in his right foot ended the season, Luther averaged 12.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game for the Panthers. In his final game of the season, Luther went for 13 points and 12 rebounds in a Pitt loss to West Virginia. Luther shot 45 percent from the field and is a noted perimeter threat as he was 38 percent from behind the three-point line.

Luther hasn’t logged heavy minutes as a contributor through a full season. Mostly a role player at Pitt until last season, Luther was the team’s most productive player when he was on the floor. But that production also didn’t come during ACC play and through the course of a full season.

Thankfully at a program like Arizona, Luther should have a bit more help around him. He could be a nice addition to the Wildcats, particularly if he rebounds and spaces the floor in the frontcourt as he did at Pitt. Arizona needed someone like Luther to provide more stability after losing players like Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic.

In the last few weeks, Arizona has rebounded nicely to land three commitments for next season — including freshmen Devonaire Doutrive and Omar Thielemans. The group isn’t as heralded as some past Arizona recruiting efforts. Given where the Wildcats were in recruiting a few weeks ago, however, this isn’t a bad turnaround.

TCU extends Jamie Dixon’s contract by two more years

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TCU has given head coach Jamie Dixon a two-year contract extension through the 2023-24 season, according to a release from the school.

Dixon took the Horned Frogs to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years this season as he’s done a great job of turning around his alma mater. The release also notes that TCU had the highest average attendance in program history this season. Fans are also taking notice of a revitalized team.

With back-to-back 20-win seasons and postseason appearances, Dixon and TCU have a lot of positive momentum going on right now. The two-year extension for Dixon should help a bit in recruiting when it comes to overall stability, as well, as he’s been able to attract some quality talent so far.

Report: Kevin Ollie claims UConn violated rights with firing

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Fired former UConn head coach Kevin Ollie is claiming that the school violated his constitutional rights during his departure.

Ollie sent a letter to UConn school president Susan Herbst which was obtained by ESPN’s Myron Medcalf in a report released on Wednesday. Ollie’s lawyers are claiming the school proceeded with his firing before giving Ollie a proper chance to contest his termination — which was guaranteed in his contract and also the collective bargaining agreement with the University of Connecticut’s branch of the American Association of University Professors. Ollie was fired, with cause, in late March as the school mentioned an NCAA inquiry as the reason why. According to Medcalf’s report, the NCAA has not sent a notice of allegations to the school.

Ollie’s union membership includes thousands of faculty members around the country as the collective bargaining agreement demands a hearing process before any employee can be terminated for allegations of serious misconduct. Ollie claims he didn’t receive a letter he was supposed to get to begin the termination process.

“From our review of the facts and circumstances relating to Coach Ollie’s employment status, it is apparent that the University of Connecticut has already violated [Coach Ollie’s] rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution by subverting Coach Ollie’s opportunity to respond to charges and evidence in a meaningful way in advance of the decision to terminate his employment,” said the letter dated April 3.

“The public record, action taken, and authorized communications by representatives of the University of Connecticut, demonstrate that the decision to terminate Coach Ollie has already been made and therefore the University of Connecticut has effectively negated Coach Ollie’s property right protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

This letter to UConn likely begins a long legal battle to try to get an eight-figure payout back as Ollie is going to do everything he can to clear his name.

South Carolina’s Brian Bowen, still ineligible, to declare for draft

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Former Louisville forward and current South Carolina Gamecock Brian Bowen will declare for the NBA draft without signing with an agent as a safety measure in case the NCAA does not clear him to play in the 2018-19 season.

Bowen is the former top 25 prospect that was forced to leave the Louisville program after the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college hoops turned up evidence that his family had accepted the first payment of what was supposed to be a $100,000 fee to get him to be a Cardinal.

That investigation was ultimately what got Rick Pitino fired.

“I just felt that it was the right decision,” Bowen told ESPN. “My goal is still to play college basketball, but I felt as though it makes sense to cover my bases.”

Bowen is in a tough spot right now.

On the one hand, he has already missed an entire season of college basketball and there is no guarantee that he will be cleared to play next season, if at all.

On the other hand, the fact that he has not played in a year and that he has not played against any collegiate level competition is one of the reasons that NBA front offices are going to be hesitant to draft him, and that’s not a good thing for a player that was considered a second round pick before he spent a year on the sidelines.

North Carolina’s Cam Johnson undergoes hip surgery

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For the second time in the last six months, North Carolina wing Cam Johnson has undergone the knife.

On Wednesday, North Carolina announced that Johnson underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his hip on Monday, and that he is expected to make a full recovery and return to school in time for the start of the 2018-19 season.

The 6-foot-9 Johnson was UNC’s third-leading scorer a season ago, averaging 12.4 points while shooting 34.1 percent from three. He only played 26 games, however, after missing time due to a surgery to fix a torn meniscus.