The College Years
Off to Cullowhee...
Martin's thin frame and unique shooting motion left college recruiters doubting his ability to get it done on the next level. His only scholarship offers came from the tiniest of programs: Ohio University, the University at Buffalo, and Western Carolina University.
In 2001, Martin chose to head for Cullowhee, N.C., where he would soon become the pride of the Western Carolina Catamounts. In a town where the population (3,579) was even smallerthan that of his quaint hometown, he finished his freshman season ranked 11th in the nation in scoring (22.1 points per game). He proved to be a great three-point shooter as soon as he arrived on campus, but at seasons end, he and his coaches realized that he had a problem. Late in the season, teams started crowding him with smaller guys, hoping to take away any outside shot and force him to drive or create his won shot. At that point of his career, he did not have those things in his game. So Martin drove his old beat up car that summer from Ohio to Clearwater, Florida to begin training with David Thorpe, a player development specialist that had been working with mostly high school players. The summer proved to be significant for both Thorpe and Martin. Coach Thorpe worked to add a dribble drive game to Martin's total offensive attack, but also tweaked his mindset to evolve from shooter to scorer and from thin and weak to mentally tough "beast" trapped in a skinny frame. Most importantly, he convinced Martin that he could be a first round pick after his junior season if he just continued to work. To Martin's great credit, he believed everything Thorpe taught and said, despite knowing that no Western Carolina player had ever been a first round pick in any sport, and the last NBA first round pick from the Southern Conference ended up getting cut within two years of being drafted.
Martin returned to Cullowhee more determined than ever to prove he was a new player, and after scoring a career high 46 points in their first game, it was clear to everyone that he had indeed reached a new level. He finished his second season ranked 10th nationally in scoring (22.8), and showed great talent at driving to the rim and earning free throws in big numbers. But his shooting percentages dropped, and Martin knew he had become too much of a driver and he needed to find the right balance between shooting and driving to become a more devastating player. So it was back to Clearwater and more work with Thorpe. As their training finished for the summer, Thorpe and Martin agreed that if the season went as they expected, he'd be able to decalre for the NBA draft and have a real chance at being a first round pick.
Again, Martin showed in his first game that he had ascended to another level. He scored a season-high 44 points at Georgia while hitting 7 of 14 threes in a close loss, then put up 33 points in a Dec. 22, 2003 upset win at Arkansas. Martin spent most of the season leading the nation in scoring and finished in second place (24.9), having had some of his best games against the sort of big-time programs so many recruiters thought he wasn't fit for. As discussed in June with Thorpe, he chose to bypass his senior season and enter the NBA draft.
Despite media projections that had Martin being taken no higher than the second round, including some long-time NBA scouts who publicly exclaimed he'd be lucky to be drafted at all, the Kings selected Martin with their No. 26 pick in the 2004 NBA draft. By 2007, most draft experts considered the pick to be the best pick that franchise had made in over a decade.