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January 9, 2013Just about any collegiate basketball player would name Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade or Kevin Durrant as the NBA player they most respect or would hope to emulate.
For Utah senior wing Cedric Martin, the names he's uttering aren't offensive super stars, they're names like Bruce Bowen and Ron Artest.
What the three may have in common is playing defense, which Martin admits, isn't necessarily the quickest path to glory.Fortunately, Martin isn't looking for glory.
Amend that to say that he isn't seeking glory through the traditional avenues, which typically include double-doubles, stellar three point shooting, or flashy dunks that end up on ESPN's Sportscenter.
In football, the term lock-down corner is oft-uttered and names like Ed Reed and Darrelle Revis are household names. Cal Ripken immediately springs to mind in baseball as well as the Golden Glove award, and hockey and soccer both include positions whose sole purpose is to play defense.
In basketball, a good defender is just an offensive liability or an incomplete player. Indeed the role Martin plays is perhaps one of the least glamorous, least appreciated in all of sports.
"Playing a role" in sports is often code for a player having to accept a demotion or deferring to another in some form or fashion. While many are team guys, accepting the role even if begrudgingly, others can't absorb the blow to the ego.
For Martin, however, his role is a choice.
"We have so many guys that can score on this team, so I don't feel like I need to do that. The pressure is kind of off of me to have to score 15 or 20 points a night. I've played on teams where they needed me to score, and I did that," explained Martin. "On this team, I love it because I can pour all of my energy into playing defense, which is what I really want to do. I take a lot of pride in that, and I think I'm kind of building a reputation for myself. I want coaches to have to account for me, or change in the game plan."
In 2011-12 Martin was the Utes' third leading scorer with a 35.6 percent shooting and average of 7.4 points per game. Martin was also the team's second leading three-point shooter on the season, hitting 49-132 from three-point range which was good for a 37.1 percentage.
In conference play, Martin increased his scoring average to 8.1 points per game, and was Utah's leading three point shooter with a 38.1 percentage on 32-84 shooting from long range.
This season through 14 games, Martin is averaging 4.5 points per game and 41.2 percent (14-34) from the field, and is the team's third leading three-point shooter with a 42.9 percent average on 9-21 shooting so far.
While he is not taking many shots, he is proving effective when he does, including a key three-pointer at Arizona late in the game, putting the Utes back within one point after clawing back from a 10 point deficit.
Martin's key shot under pressure may have surprised many, but not Martin, who has quietly proven to be a reliable outside shooter over time including hitting five three-pointers in two different games last season.
"I had no hesitation at all when the ball came to me. I knew I had a good look at it, and it was just kind of instinct, off the pass. I'm not even sure what the shot clock was at, but I knew I was going to put it up. I was totally confident," recalled Martin of the key shot that gave Utah an opportunity to upset the (then) No. 3 ranked team in the nation. "I don't shoot it that much, but I know that I can when I need to, and that was a time that I needed to. I've learned when to take my shots and when to pass it off, but I'm always ready for it."
Keeping the offense in his back pocket, Martin says he just has a passion for defense.
"It's just something that I love, and I think it's just in me. I can't stand it when someone scores on me," explained Martin. "I get mad, and I think I'd almost rather fight somebody than let them score on me. I hate it."
Martin says his defensive mind-set dates back to his youth and originates from his coach and father, who instilled that concept of defense into his young son.
"People always ask me about my defense, and to me, it's just how you play basketball. It's natural for me, and it's how I was taught to play ever since I was little," Martin recollected. "My dad was my coach, and he really focused on defense. He was serious about it, and if I didn't play defense, I ran. He ran and ran me, the whole team, not just me, but it was punishment."
Martin continued to reflect on his basketball foundation only to find that whatever the origins of his defensive mind-set, it stuck with him, and he's glad for it.
"I got [the defensive mind-set] from punishment, to avoid punishment. I didn't like it back then, but it was something I knew I had to do," Martin said good-heartedly. "Now, I can definitely say that I'm grateful for that experience because it never really left me. It's made me the defensive player I am today."
Already Utah's best defender, and perhaps one of the Pac-12's better defensive players, Martin says he's not done yet, nor is he satisfied.
"I like my game and my defense. It's something I'm really proud of, but at the same time, if guys are scoring on me at all, I'm not satisfied," he said. "I have a lot of things I still want to improve on, and even though I'm playing good defense, I want to get even better at it. I want coaches to have to account for me in their game-plans, or alter what they're trying to do. I want them to say 'Hey, look out for number 43."