After substantially improving his stock during the first of two college evaluation periods in July, Glendale (Ariz.) Kellis 6-foot-9 power forward Kenny Martin was recently offered a scholarship by Arizona State and decided on Monday to accept.
Martin, a Tucson native who moved to the Valley following his freshman season, decided he didn't need to wait until after prominent AAU tournaments in Las Vegas and Phoenix, when his offer list would have undoubtedly swollen to more than just ASU and Long Beach State.
"I just wanted to stay close to home," Martin said. "I got a lot of family here so I just wanted to be close so I have family support here.
"It's pretty exciting. When I was younger, I wasn't expecting myself to make it this far. I'm here, I'm really excited to be a Sun Devil."
After averaging 14.7 points, 13.6 rebounds and five blocks last season, Martin was snubbed and forced to watch the Arizona All-Underclassmen game at Mesa Community College from the stands several months ago.
Playing with the Arizona Future Ice/Aces combined AAU teams and in the Fullcourt Press Camp in Los Angeles over the last two weeks, Martin proved beyond a shadow of doubt that he's one of the top in-state recruits regardless of class.
Martin led his team to a Silver Championship in the Double Pump tournament in Carson, Calif., and platinum championship game berth at Pangos in Long Beach, Calif., later in the week. Then Martin followed it up with a Top-30 All-Star game appearance in front of several dozen college coaches.
"We had a really good group of kids and Kenny kind of powered us and gave us that energy and played," said AAU coach B.J. Letcher. "Other kids fed off that as the week wore on. With 12 games in 7 days, we started to gel as a team, the kids started to cheer for one another and support one another which was great.
"A guy who is 6-foo-9, 6-foot-10, who runs like he does and has the athleticism he does, Kenny just needs to keep working on skill development, ball handling, tightening his shot up, his potential is unlimited. His ability to block shots, his timing, his energy and his intangibles are excellent."
One of Martin's mentors, Holland Woods, also trains the promising young face up forward and said he too believes the sky is the limit.
"I think the opportunity for him is as high as he wants to take it," Woods said. "There's nothing but God that can stop him from getting to the next level, playing in the NBA. That's just another step. With an education, with a degree, I don't think there is anything stopping him."
Arizona Aces founder and prominent local businessperson Gus Esposito has been around Martin for years and is proud of his efforts thus far and is confident he'll be a great addition for the Sun Devils.
"It was his No. 1 choice and they were ecstatic because Kenny was their No. 1 target," Esposito said. "The coaching staff was unbelievable. Kenny picked them because they seemed very real. He has a big support network here and to go play for a school like ASU is great.
"Kenny is soft spoken, quiet, a little shy, very low maintenance. He really likes music and everything a normal kid likes but he's really a very nice kid. Good soul, great heart."
The Future Ice/Aces overachieved in Los Angeles, consistently beating teams with more Division I prospects, a tribute to all involved, and Esposito said Martin's quiet, Wayne Gretzky-like ability to put his teammates in position to succeed, was one of the main reasons.
"He roams around, he's silent, but he scores a lot, he rebounds, he blocks shots, he gets a lot done," Esposito said. "But he's a silent leader, he brings everyone's level up another notch just with his presence on the court."
Holland and Esposito said ASU assistant Lamont Smith was savvy and persistent in his pursuit of Martin, telling them that their player was head coach Herb Sendek's top wish list prospect at his position.
"I told them I couldn't see no coach in Arizona letting a kid like this out of the state and when I asked that they came back at me the same way, like 'Kenny belongs in Arizona,'" Holland said. "I asked Kenny that question, I told him that. You aren't going to find opportunities like this, they come one out of a million.
"ASU was on his mind before he started playing basketball, when he came from Tucson. He already wanted to be a Sun Devil, it was a dream then, it's a reality now."
Arizona Future founder and head coach Ron Bender, who said he's been around Martin for seven or so years, said he's extremely excited about the player's future.
"There are a lot of guys who have gotten more publicity or media hype and I also felt like Kenny was deserving of more recognition so it's good to see that happen for him now," Bender said. "How many guys come out of Arizona with his length and athleticism and skill level? It's pretty rare. He's got a chance to be really great and I just want to help him maximize his potential."
If anyone was in doubt about what was possible, it was perhaps Martin himself.
"It's pretty awesome I made it," he said. "This dream I had, it only started a few years ago and now it feels like some of the hard work has paid off. Without Holland and Gus I don't think I would have made it and so has Ron Bender, he's been there for me all the way too. I'm very thankful to have all of them."
Martin is ASU's second local commitment in the 2012 class, joining 6-foot-10 Hamilton High post Eric Jacobsen.