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Mandyahl
06-12-2003, 11:41 PM
Nets' Martin makes snub work for him

06/13/2003

By EDDIE SEFKO / The Dallas Morning News

First, Kenyon Martin had to conquer the physical stuff the mangled leg suffered late in his senior season at Cincinnati that some thought would be career threatening.

Next up was the mental meat grinder. He had to defuse that loose cannon in his head.

It didn't take long for perhaps the best athlete ever to come out of Bryan Adams High School to fix those problems. Time took care of the first. His basketball sense took care of the second.

But there was another issue to address that little detail of acceptance, of proving that the No. 1 overall pick in the 2000 NBA draft was worthy of that designation. This would not come quite so conveniently.

Sometimes, it takes a big whack to the side of the ego.

When Martin didn't make the Eastern Conference All-Star team this season while Cleveland's Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Indiana's Brad Miller somehow did he took it personally. And for the rest of the season, he played like an All-Star in every sense.

Making his points

Starting after All-Star reserves were announced, Martin averaged 29 points and 13.3 rebounds in the next three games. He went on to average 19.8 points in his final 32 regular-season games.

If that didn't do it, then one other snub certainly did. At the end of the season, he was left off not only the all-defensive first team, but the second team, as well.

"It was absolutely astonishing that he didn't make the first or second all-defensive team," Nets coach Byron Scott says.

After having his leg put back together, then being supplanted as bad-apple poster boy by Indiana's Ron Artest, these two blows hurt.

But the 6-9 Martin is enjoying one heck of a last laugh. He's square in the middle of the NBA Finals for the second year in a row with the New Jersey Nets, and his play is a big reason the Nets have positioned themselves as a force in the Eastern Conference for years to come, regardless of the outcome in the Finals against San Antonio.

"I just tried to keep getting better, tried to see how much better I can be in this league," Martin says. "There are things in the game, instead of just trying to show up and play."

That would be all the distractions from the media, his friends and other outside influences that can make the court seem like an oasis. But the stuff that really mattered never bothered Martin.

"All of that other stuff, I had before the tools," he says. It was a matter of "just thinking about the game a little bit more."

Adjustment period

There is little doubt that Martin has ability. It's just taken a little time for everybody to figure that out even himself. He knew early on that his niche in the NBA would not come immediately.

"I think I'm pretty prepared for what's going on," he once said. "I think I can be one of the best players in this league when I get a couple years under my belt."

He was 22 when he said that as a rookie. Now he's 24 and, in spite of what some people who vote for All-Stars might think, he is one of the best forwards in the league.

He won over at least one skeptic with his play early in the NBA Finals.

"I was so impressed," ABC commentator and Hall of Fame center Bill Walton said. "He was the guy I was most concerned about, and he played the best.

"I thought Jason would be great and that Kenyon Martin would be the problem. And what happened in Game 1 was the exact opposite. Kenyon Martin was great and Jason Kidd was the problem."

Kidd has alternated between bad and good games in the first four games of the Finals. But Martin has been perhaps New Jersey's most consistent player. He leads the team in points, rebounds, blocks and steals during the Finals.

Martin has handled himself well against Tim Duncan, who has played like the MVP he is throughout the playoffs, ravaging just about everything in his path.

Against the Nets, he's been great. But perhaps not dominant. The 30-point games that flowed from him against the Mavericks in the conference finals have been absent since Game 1. Martin has had a little something to do with that, as has Dikembe Mutombo.

Duncan has averaged 23.8 points and 16.3 rebounds in the Finals. But Martin has put up respectable numbers in every game, which is part of why the series is tied at two wins apiece.

One of the most interesting aspects of Martin is that his emotions no longer are part of the equation on the court. Nobody expects him to waylay anybody, which was a distinct possibility in his first season in the league.

Matter of maturing

"Kenyon is maturing," Scott says. "The fact that every day we have watched film and he got a chance to see some of his fouls has helped. And what is considered a flagrant foul, 15 years ago some of those fouls were just what they were hard fouls. But the league is a little watered down as far as physical play. It's not like it used to be. So he learned from watching tape what he could do and what he could not do."

It's called the learning curve, along which Martin has moved nicely.

But he hasn't forgotten his roots. Many of his family members still live in Dallas, including his mother and sister. They and others made the trip to San Antonio for Games 1 and 2. "It was cool to see them," Martin says.

Cool because they accepted Kenyon Martin for what he is even before he became big time.

It just took everybody in the NBA a little time to catch up.

mavsfanforever
06-12-2003, 11:47 PM
Nice article. Thans Mandy.

I wish we had more players who play with as much heart as K-Mart. Initially before this series started I thought K-Mart is successful only because he is in the east. I have to agree this guy is much more talented than I thought.

Mandyahl
06-12-2003, 11:49 PM
yeah, k-mart is quickly becoming one of my favorite nba players. i love how he goes against duncan with absolutely no fear!

raefformvp
06-13-2003, 06:31 PM
I absolutely love K-Mart and wish he could somehow find his way to the Mavs. Since he is from Dallas, that would be really cool! He is one of the only exciting things to watch in this NBA finals match-up.