The 260 miles separating Tyrese Martin from where he played high school basketball don’t stop him from keeping tabs on his hometown.
He even gathered inspiration from what Allen accomplished during the recent District 11 boys basketball tournament.
Martin followed from afar as the young Canaries surprised everyone by winning the District 11 Class 6A title. That run boosted Martin’s belief that his current team, Rhode Island, could follow a similar path through the Atlantic 10 men’s basketball tournament despite its youth.
Martin has become a key part of the Rams’ roster this season. The freshman wing jumped into the starting lineup by midseason and helped Rhode Island land the No. 8 seed for this week’s A-10 tournament in Brooklyn. The Rams open the tourney Thursday at noon with a second-round game against No. 9 La Salle.
“He’s been a valued part of our starting lineup,” Rhode Island coach David Cox said last week after the Rams pulled out an overtime win at Saint Joseph’s. “He can defend multiple positions. Obviously he’s a shot-maker. His athleticism and his length have helped us on both ends of the floor, whether that’s getting to the paint and making plays or in rotations on defense.
“He’s a confident kid. He’s very, very intelligent. He’s probably one of the only kids on the team, regardless of class, that I can tell one time what to do and he gets it. So he’s got a really unique understanding of the game.”
Martin played fewer minutes than he would have liked in his visit to Philadelphia. With Allen coach Doug Snyder and former Canaries star Darnell Braswell among the friends and family watching in the Hagan Arena crowd, Martin had three points, six rebounds and two assists in 22 minutes. He would have played more had a left knee injury he suffered Feb. 19 at VCU not bothered him.
Martin hasn’t missed a game since tweaking his knee, but his scoring has dipped. He still heads into the A-10 tournament averaging 7.9 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. Only Cyril Langevine (9.9 rebounds per game) averages more boards for the Rams, who don’t have a senior playing double-digit minutes.
He’s probably one of the only kids on the team, regardless of class, that I can tell one time what to do and he gets it.”
“We had a whole new team coming in, so the trust wasn’t there [early],” Martin said. “When we played older teams with older guys, they picked that out. We didn’t really have that going. We beat ourselves in most of those games.
“I feel like we’re getting it rolling right now.”
Rhode Island (16-14 overall) heads into the A-10 tournament with a four-game winning streak, its longest this season. The Rams will need to match that winning streak to claim the A-10 tournament title and the league’s automatic berth for the NCAA Tournament.
A healthy Martin would give Rhode Island a boost as it seeks four wins in four days. A potent scorer at Allen — he finished his career with 1,120 points, most of which came in his final two seasons — his role with the Rams has centered on defense. Cox has often placed the 6-foot-6, 195-pound Martin on the opponent’s best perimeter scorer.
That included stretches against Saint Joe’s redshirt sophomore Charlie Brown, the A10’s leading scorer and a potential NBA draft pick. The Rams limited Brown to 13 points on 14 field-goal attempts while nabbing an 86-85 win.
“[Coach Cox] knows I’m sacrificing a lot of my skill and talent to do what’s best for this team,” Martin said. “Right now my role is to go out there, guard the best player, play hard and rebound, and take advantage of the shots that I get.”
Said Cox: “He’s a tough kid. He’s got to continue to improve in some of those areas [on defense]. But he’s a competitor, and because of his size, length and athleticism, he’s done a solid job.”
No matter when his freshman season ends, Martin has enjoyed the journey. He received scholarship offers from over two dozen schools, including Maryland, North Carolina State and Boston College. He felt like Rhode Island loved him, leading him to choose the Rams during a prep season at Massanutten Military Academy.
Nothing about his freshman year has caused him to question his decision to head to Kingston.
“There’s student-athletes I’m friends with,” he said. “There’s some students that aren’t athletes that I’m friends with. It’s such a diverse university where you can make friends with everybody.
“You can be yourself. That’s what stands out to me.”