Men's basketball: Martin can't pass on extra year at ND
The return for a sixth season by team most valuable player Scott Martin means Notre Dame will have back its entire starting lineup from this past season when the Irish finished 22-12, 13-5 in the Big East.
(ISR photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)
6:59 am, May 14, 2012
SOUTH BEND — With an undergraduate degree secured, Scott Martin figured this would be the time to take the next step in his basketball career, such as selecting an agent and identifying his best options overseas.
Instead, the Irish forward sat on a bar stool in a corner of the Notre Dame locker room lounge Monday afternoon and discussed reasons for returning to school for a sixth season.
The main reason had little to do with hoops. Sort of.
“The economy isn't doing too hot right now, so I figure why not stay in school one more year?” Martin said. “It's just a great place to be. I enjoy being a part of the program.”
As important as it was to graduate — he fulfilled requirements in December — it matters almost more to Martin that he plays a full four seasons of college basketball. So when the opportunity arose last fall to petition the NCAA for a rare sixth season of eligibility — athletes generally are allowed five years to complete four seasons of eligibility — Martin's initial response carried no hesitation. “Let's do it.”
“College basketball is just so much fun,” said the Irish most valuable player from the 2011-12 season. “You can't turn down another year.”
After months of waiting and likely even a few days of wondering if he had indeed played his final game in an Irish uniform, Martin was awarded a sixth season Friday by the NCAA. Martin missed an entire year — what would have been his first at Notre Dame in 2009-10 after transferring from Purdue — with a left knee injury that required reconstructive surgery.
Martin sat out the previous season (2008-09) after his transfer. He left West Lafayette, in part, to be closer to his Valparaiso home while his father successfully underwent treatment for a rare form of eye cancer. There were times that year when Martin was excused from Irish practices so he could drive his father into Chicago for treatments or head home to support his mother and younger brother.
“He was really kind of a rock in that house that year,” said Irish coach Mike Brey.
It was his father's medical condition that allowed Martin to seek one more season in South Bend.
Martin averaged 9.5 points and 5.7 rebounds in 34.7 minutes last season. But it's never been about the numbers for the 6-foot-8 Martin, whose value lies in his ability to draw key charges at key times, to operate as a coach on the floor and to be a confident, competent leader, a role he grew into after a rocky start last winter.
When teammate and roommate Tim Abromaitis (whose sixth-year appeal was denied last month) was lost for the year with a knee injury the day after Thanksgiving, the crush of leadership responsibility fell on Martin. After first struggling, he eventually thrived.
“What he did this year in crisis, getting us through that November and December, was one of the best examples of leadership we've had in our program since I've been here,” Brey said. “This is a guy that makes us go.”
Coach and player insisted long ago that a sixth season made little sense. But while on the road recruiting last spring and summer, Brey talked informally with several people familiar with the sixth-year application process. Every indication he received was that Martin would have a solid case to return.
Even as the decision dragged on — Notre Dame had hoped to hear something in early March after Martin filed the waiver in December — confidence around the Irish basketball offices remained high.
It was only a matter of when, not if, Martin's return would be given a green light. Only once did Martin swing by Brey's office and broach the subject of Plan B.
“I was really banking on coming back,” Martin said.
Still, the process took months, with the NCAA often placing another call to Notre Dame requesting more medical documentation.
“There were a lot of man-hours that went into this thing, probably too many, quite frankly,” said Brey, who admitted to being “exhausted” and “frustrated” with the delays. “But at the end of the day, we got the right result and I'm thrilled with it.”
With Martin, the Irish will return their entire starting lineup that helped Notre Dame go 22-12 and 13-5 in the Big East last season. It also sets in concrete heavy expectations heading into the 2012-13 season. Notre Dame likely will be Top 15 preseason selection, and a popular pick to seriously challenge to win the school's first Big East regular-season championship.
Just being good — another year of at least 10 league wins and a fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament — no longer is good enough. Like the rest of the Irish, Martin will get a few weeks to decompress back home before returning in mid-June for summer school, where work toward next winter will begin.
“We can't rest on what we did last year,” said Martin, who had tentative plans Monday to play one-on-one against former Irish All-American Ben Hansbrough. “We have to understand that everyone else out there is getting better and we need to do the same thing.
“It's going to start right away.”