Waking the Echoes: Martin makes a comeback across the pond
Brian Hartnett | Tuesday, March 4, 2014
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND — Scott Martin’s college basketball career came to a close when he elected to have an arthroscopic knee surgery described as “career-ending” in March 2013.
But the Notre Dame guard knew he wasn’t ready to give up the game he had spent his whole life playing.
“[Irish] coach [Mike] Brey and I talked almost right after [the surgery] happened, and I wasn’t sure I was going to play,” Martin said after the Esh Group Eagles Newcastle defeated the London Lions, 83-77, at Sport Central on Feb. 14. “Coach said, ‘You know, you really can’t end like this.’ He was right, and I felt the same way, so I worked hard rehabbing to get myself back in shape, and I got this opportunity.”
Martin’s opportunity was a chance to play for the Eagles, one of 12 teams that comprise the British Basketball League (BBL). The Eagles, which are located in Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England, have won five BBL Championships, the most of any team in the league.“My agent handled most of [the negotiations], and it sounded like a good deal to me,” Martin said. “The Eagles are a very prestigious team over here, kind of like the [NBA’s Boston] Celtics in terms of the number of championships they’ve won. I was excited to come to a winning program and just be able to help out.”
Departing from his traditional role as a guard to play mostly forward, Martin has averaged 16.0 points and 9.8 rebounds per game in 22 games for the Eagles, who currently sit second in the BBL at 18-5.
The 6-foot-8 Martin, who stands as the second-tallest player on the Eagles, said he hasn’t had much trouble adjusting to his new spot in the low post.
“I think the one thing I pride myself most on in my game is my ability to play multiple positions, so I don’t really have a preference,” he said. “I’ll do whatever the team needs.”
Martin gained a reputation as a team player during his time at Notre Dame, as he is one of only 20 players in the university’s history to serve as a two-time captain.
But Notre Dame wasn’t the original destination for Martin.
The Valparaiso, Ind., native considered the Irish before ultimately choosing to enroll as a freshman at Purdue in the fall of 2007. Martin saw immediate playing time for the Boilermakers, playing in 32 of the team’s 34 games and averaging 8.5 points per game, but he found he wasn’t too happy with his college choice.
“I made a decision, but it wasn’t the right fit,” Martin said. “I decided to come play for coach Brey, and I always say it was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Martin transferred to Notre Dame in June of 2008, but he wouldn’t see playing time for the Irish until the fall of 2010. After sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer regulations, Martin missed the entire 2009-10 season when he tore the ACL in his left knee during a preseason workout.
Martin said Brey’s support was critical during his two seasons off the court.
“I remember the day I got hurt with the ACL, and [Brey] walked in and said, ‘Nothing’s changing, you’re still my guy,’” he said. “He said that everything we talked about when I first got here was still going to happen and that I just needed to work hard. I think he instilled that confidence and resiliency in me.”
Martin returned to the court just in time to contribute to a Notre Dame squad that won 25 regular-season games en route to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. The former Fisher Hall resident started all 33 games for the team and averaged 9.7 points per game, earning the team’s Most Improved Player Award.
“I think [our success] was our versatility — we had five ball handlers on the floor at all times,” Martin said of the 2010-11 team. “You couldn’t really pressure us, and I think that helped us create a lot of mismatches that we used to our advantage.”
As a captain in both the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, Martin, who became the first Notre Dame student-athlete to be granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, served as a leader on two young teams. He also enjoyed some of his greatest collegiate success in his final two seasons, being named the Notre Dame Monogram Club Team MVP in the spring of 2012 and shooting a career-high 46.3 percent from 3-point range over 18 games before knee problems shut him down in January 2013.
“I think [my success] came from the lack of injuries,” Martin said. “[In the 2011-12 season], I didn’t really have any problems, and I was playing well. I was able to stay in the gym all summer and work on my game, and I think it showed. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be, and I got hurt again.”
Martin said the biggest lesson he tried to impart during his tenure as captain was an emphasis on resiliency.
“I think the most important thing, and I think it starts with the coach is a never-quit attitude,” he said. “What’s also important is the identity of being a team, working as a team.”
Watching this year’s Irish team from overseas, Martin said the key for Notre Dame’s success in the ACC lies in the team’s ability to find a style of play that works for it.
“This year’s been tough, but I think the great thing we had in the Big East was our ability to find our niche and find the way we’re going to play to win games,” Martin said. “It’s going to take a little time. I think they had kind of found it a bit and then with the injuries and guys leaving, they lost it a bit. I think the key is to kind of find your niche, and they’ll do it in a year or two.”
Although the Big East as he knew it no longer exists, Martin said he still sees vestiges of his former conference in the BBL’s style of play.
“[The BBL] is a little similar in a way [to the Big East] because it’s a physical game, and the Big East was definitely a physical gauntlet,” he said. “It’s also a little quicker because guys are a little smaller in this league, so it’s a bit more guard-oriented. The Big East, obviously, was guard-oriented as well, but there were some 7-footers in there too.”
Martin said his immediate focus is on the rest of the season and BBL playoffs, but he has enjoyed his time in Newcastle so far.
“We’ll see where things go over the summer and how the season finishes out, but I’m having a great time here,” he said. “It’s a great town. I’ve got some great teammates and a great coaching staff, so I’m having fun right now, and I’m not really too focused on next year.”
As for the more distant future, Martin said he’s willing to potentially pursue a path Brey recommended for him.
“Basketball is my love, and it’s what I’ve spent my whole life doing,” he said. “[Brey] always said that I would be a good coach, so I might have to put it to the test.”