Ethan Miller/Getty Images

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

Leave a comment

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.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

“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)

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
4 Comments

INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
7 Comments

LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

Getty Images
4 Comments

The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
4 Comments

STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.