Utah senior guard [db]Cedric Martin[/db] is less than a handful of games away from surviving his basketball career at Utah, in the process of doing so, the feat is symbolic of his having survived so much more - his entire tough upbringing on the South Side of Minneapolis.
For Martin, who navigated his way through a tough, gang-ridden neighborhood of Minneapolis and away from trouble, navigating his way through the ups and downs of a roller coaster basketball career is nothing for the battle-tested Ute guard.
"Whether we're winning or losing, it's nothing really. Of course I want to win games, but when you put that aside it's just a blessing to be able to play here in this place, in front of these fans who didn't know me, but took me in and accepted me," said Martin. "I just have to come out and play basketball, and I get an education, they give you everything you need; a roof over your head, clothes, food on your table. Some people never get the chance to live this, and I get to do that. That's what makes me want to win games, for everyone here and for the opportunity to pay back all that's been given to me."
Martin's grounded perspective can't be mistaken for complacency or lack of commitment, it simply means he has lived enough in his young life to be able to stop, look around and appreciate his life, especially considering what it could have been.
"Where I'm from, everybody gets involved with the gang life, even if you don't want to. You almost don't have a choice if you want to survive there. If I didn't have basketball, I'd probably be back there involved in all of that," Martin reflected. "In a lot of ways, basketball saved my life. It kept me off the streets, out of trouble. I just wasn't around to get involved, and my dad pushed me into that. He almost forced me into it, but I'm glad that he did it, and now I understand why he did it. It saved me."
As far as success on the hardwood, Martin never stops working to get better with winning as the end goal, but also understands that one can't control everything.
"I want to win more than anybody out there, but I know that as long as I did everything I could in a game, then I can live with that," Martin explained. "I can't control if we win the game, I just have to know that I left everything that I had out on the court. When we win, that feels better, but when we lose, it helps a little if I can look at myself in the mirror and know I did everything I could to win."
In his short time at Utah, Ute fans can attest to the fact that Martin has indeed left it all on the court, filling all kinds of voids on the Utah roster, no matter how unlikely that may seemed. Part of [db]Larry Krystkowiak[/db]'s very first recruiting class, Martin was the only one of that class to return to the team this season.
Because of the circumstances of how he came to play basketball at Utah as well as the fact that he is the only member of that class to return, Martin seemed like the obvious choice to be the heart, soul, and the anchor for the Runnin' Utes this season. To a man, every current Ute player names Martin as the most respected guy on the roster, and not coincidentally, will be the most missed next season. That's a huge testament to what he has meant to this team, considering the caliber of the other outgoing seniors.
"Ced is the one I'm going to miss being around the most," admitted fellow outgoing senior [db]Ryan Osterloh[/db].
Other teammates like [db]Dallin Bachynski[/db] and [db]Jeremy Olsen[/db] also spoke glowingly of Martin, and what he has meant to them, and will mean to the team, even in his absence.
"Every single one of these seniors has brought their own positives to the team, and we've need all of them. They were all important," explained Bachynski. "But Cedric, I mean, I just respect the hell out of him. I don't know how else to say that. I don't know if I've seen, or played with a tougher guy than him. The way that he plays makes me want to give more and play harder."
Olsen continued singing Martin's praises.
"Cedric is by far the toughest player on this team. No question. And I think that will be his lasting legacy for all of us who had the chance to play with him," said Olsen. "He's been hurt almost his whole career, and you never hear him complaining. It never shows up on his play on the court. That is for sure the biggest thing that I learned from him."
While every team member from the first man to the last echoes those sentiments, another big aspect of Martin's personality and demeanor is his easy-going, laid-back sense of humor. By all accounts, it has been Martin who has been quick with a witty quip, or a joke in the most tense times during this trying season that has kept this team going.
"Cedric's the joker on the team. He has always found a way to just keep it light or just say something at the right time to make everyone laugh at the worst time," said Osterloh.
Even the respected elder of the group, [db]David Foster[/db],who has also endured many hardships tips his hat to Martin as resident tough guy, as well as the "glue" guy that every team needs.
"Whenever I think about what I've been through, of course its been hard. But when I think of what he has been through, and the tough life that he's had, it's just inspiring to me that he is still the one keeping everything positive and everyone laughing," admitted Foster. "Knowing him has changed my own perspective on everything. He's taught me a lot of lessons."
While many people have suffered a tough childhood, including poverty, bad neighborhoods, gangs, drugs, crime, or whatever the case may be, still very few have had to endure what Martin has. In addition to dealing with a combination of all of those things, Martin was tasked with taking care of his siblings, including cooking meals following school and basketball practices at a young age while his father and step-mother worked nights.
Given the world he lived in, Martin was lucky to be there to be able to do that for his family, as he saw more than one family member lost to gang violence, resulting in the kind of tragic suffering no young person should have to endure. Yet, he is the one player who always wears a smile, and is the first to provide a positive outlook on any given situation, one of the few positives he was able to take from the loss of loved ones.
"You just don't know when your last day is going to be, so you have to live every day like it could be your last. That's how I live, and that's how I play basketball. I've seen what can happen, and because of that, I can't see any other way to live," Martin educated. "I enjoy everything, all the small things. I appreciate everyone around me, and me everything I have. I try to show that I'm thankful for all of it. If the next day was going to be the last, I'd want to be laughing, and letting the people around me who love me know that I love them. I take nothing in this world for granted."
Knowing his story, it should come as no surprise that Martin has played the role he has during his time at Utah, and has played basketball the way that he has for this program and this community; given his all to the point that he would serve as the team's inspiration and best possible example.
"Whatever negatives you experience in life, you learn how to avoid them. I think that's natural. So if you lose someone you love to the gangs, or violence, you're probably going to do everything you can to avoid the gangs and the violence," he theorized. "So while those experiences for me were hard, maybe going through them were the things that made me determined not to go down that same path. Without them, maybe I make those mistakes, and fall into that lifestyle. So I'm grateful for the lessons I learned, no matter how hard it was at the time to go through it. Sometimes that's what it takes."
The other part of his drive and motivation is derived from a sense of giving back, or repaying all that he has, as well as the opportunities he has been given. After playing a central role in helping to raise his siblings, Martin's family eventually had to adjust to his increasingly demanding basketball career which left a large void to be filled in the family dynamic.
"It means a lot to me, of course. It's a huge accomplishment, and one I didn't really know I could achieve. But it probably means more for my family, or I guess I mean I'm doing it more for my family than for me," Martin acknowledged when asked how much getting a degree would mean to him. "So many people had to rearrange things, and make sacrifices for me to get to where I am today, so because of that, I want to get everything that I can out of it. I want to take advantage of the opportunity because so many people had to give up so much for me to be here."
As he continues to work on his degree in Human Development, Martin eventually plans to find a way to help people, though he doesn't exactly know where, or in what capacity. The one thing Martin does know is that he'll put his experiences and big heart to good use, and that he hopes to help troubled youth in some way. While the next step is yet to be determined, and nothing is set in stone, Martin aspires to achieve a very average, quiet life; which to him would be the ultimate accomplishment.
"I don't know, I want to have a wife, and a family and a white fence and a dog. I want to do something to give back for the chances I was given. I just want to find a way to help people, especially kids," he said almost wistfully. "I don't have to make a lot of money, or make a huge mark on the world, because that's done one small thing, or one person at a time. I just want to do that, and be there for my family."
When asked about what Martin has meant, and how much he will be missed around the Utah program, Utah assistant coach [db[Tommy Connor[/db] was candid in his response.
"You don't meet very many people who could have handled all the things he's encountered in his life, and come out of it the way he has. For him to come out of that OK, and as the kind of person he has turned into is extraordinary. For my part, I hope that we'll maintain a connection and a relationship with all of our seniors and former players. That's important." Connor confided. "But for me personally, I am especially close to Cedric. I don't know what his plans are, but I'd love for him to stick around here. I'd love to find him a position here where he can help us continue to build. He would be a tremendous asset and resource to the next set of athletes who come through here, so that is something we'd all love to see happen."