Size is a necessary but sometimes misleading thing in the world of basketball.
Standing a shade taller than 6-foot-9 and carrying almost 220 pounds, Jarell Martin has size that makes you think of a Kevin Garnett. But the senior in high school wants you to think LeBron James or Kevin Durant when you watch him play.
If either of those latter two likenesses are even fractionally true, LSU would like to think it’s about to get a lot better.
“I’d compare my game to say LeBron [James] and Kevin Durant,” Martin, an LSU signee in the Class of 2013, told TSD recently. “They just take whatever’s there. If there’s a big guy on them, they can abuse them with the perimeter game. If there’s a smaller guy on them, they’ll go down low and use their game on the block.”
For Martin, who’s led Baton Rouge-area charter school Madison Prep to a 31-3 start this season, the game is about quickness and athleticism, something many may take for granted given his height and status as the fifth-best power forward in America.
He’s quick to admit playing inside, facing the basket comes most naturally to him. There his speed and agility can take over. “My best move down there: One dribble to the goal or anything quick to get to the goal. I’m real quick on my feet.”
Of course as Madison Prep Coach Jeff Jones reminds, the youngster, who puts in 200 made threes on his own following every practice, has a mid-range and outside game, too.
“He works well without the ball, but he can handle it too,” explains Jones. “In fact, in some of our sets, you may see him initiate the offense, kinda like a point forward. In some of our sets, he may come off a double stack or a curl to get a shot. In others, he’s a decoy. But we definitely know that in so many trips up the floor, he has to get touches.
“So the ball can run through him, but it doesn’t have to. Jarell gets so much off offensive rebounds and in transition. It’s kinda a nice little flow he plays in.”
That smooth flow is all the more impressive given how natural – and relatively unpolished – it is.
Martin is the rare five-star prep prospect who didn’t grow up inhaling the game, being coached up from every angle through years on school teams and AAU circuits. In fact he never even got on the hardwood full-time until last season, his first at Madison Prep after transferring from Glen Oaks High School.
“People don’t realize this is just his second year playing varsity ball, playing organized ball,” Jones said. “Didn’t play much in middle school. Didn’t play in ninth grade or 10th grade (at Glen Oaks). So he’s still like a sponge at this point, absorbing and soaking up everything. That’s why this summer was so good for him.”
This past summer, as Jones alluded to, gave Martin confidence that he belonged with the best. He was already on the map based on his size and the raw talent he displayed his junior year, but the summer of 2012 served as the official baptism for the basketball new-blood.
“Last year and last summer (2011), he was okay, but he wasn’t as sure of himself. Now, after going out and being one of the most outstanding players at Pangos, at adidas Nations, at LeBron’s [camp] and at Kevin Durant’s [camp] and having all those people recognize him, the light has kinda turned on for him,” continued Jones. “His confidence is better, his understanding is so much better and his approach to the game is better.”
According to Jones, inspiration came at least partly from getting closer to some of the nation’s established elite players, guys who themselves were already friendly and familiar with the best the world has to offer.
“This self-initiative that I’m seeing, it comes from being around the Julius Randles, the Jabari Parkers and these other guys that you know within the next two to three years are going to be in the NBA,” Jones said. “Those guys who live in other places, bigger cities, they’re around pros and all they’re doing is just mimicking what they see those guys do. For Jarell to be around all that and see it, that was really good for him.”
The player that this summer spit out for Jones has been a markedly better version. Averaging 25.3 points, 14.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 4.0 blocks per game, Martin is evolving into a more complete player. Equally as important, he’s taking in the game on a whole new level.
“Vast improvement in the last year,” Jones concluded with a telling nod of the head. “His understanding of the game is just so much better. He’s also added about 10-12 pounds of muscle, which doesn’t hurt, but watching him catch onto the game is the most impressive thing.”
From Martin’s standpoint he’s also put more emphasis on the defensive end.
“I’m improving more on my defense. I’m starting to block a lot of shots and getting more steals, so I’d say I’m working on that end more,” said Martin.
His coach feels he may actually be more versatile on that side of the floor.
“I feel most comfortable letting him guard the three and the four. Some two, but not really a five,” Jones leveled. “He’s a much better help defender than on-ball post defender, but he’s a great on-ball perimeter defender. He can guard a two or three on the wing. But like a big burly guy down in the paint, something we don’t see much of in Louisiana, he’s not really great at that.
“I’d say one of his biggest strengths is coming over as a help defender because he’s really into the game and his basketball IQ has picked up tremendously.”
And so Martin and Madison Prep roll on toward the state playoffs with one goal in mind – a championship.
After that Martin has two things on his list he plans to check off before making it to campus at LSU. First is scoring just a touch higher on the ACT (see Matt McCurdy’s latest academic report for more details), something about which the player and coach alike are confident. Second is appearing in the prestigious McDonald’s All-American Game.
Martin was recently nominated for the annual showcase game in Chicago, and he’ll know for sure whether he’s named to a roster when the final 30 names are released on Feb. 14.
“It’d be pretty big to say that I’d be playing against some of the top guys in the nation, so I’m looking forward to it,” Martin said. “I’m real excited knowing it’s been a long time since a guy out of Baton Rouge went to the McDonald’s All-American Game, so I’m just praying to God that I get there.”
When he does finally make it to campus, and takes his place amongst the rest of the Tigers, Martin said there’s no pressure in representing the hometown or being a blue-chipper.
“I’m real excited about coming to LSU,” explained Martin, who chose to play for Johnny Jones and the Tigers despite offers from Alabama, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Saint John’s and UCLA, among others. “I don’t feel any pressure on it. I’m just ready to go in there and shock the world.”
From where Jeff Jones sits, he thinks his star pupil will fit in very well at LSU, both in terms of how Johnny Jones likes to play and because of the haul of talented players coming in alongside Martin (namely Jordan Mickey and Tim Quarterman).
“We [Madison Prep] are pretty up-tempo. Coach Jones is up-tempo,” said Jones, finding an immediate similarity. “There’s no particular way that I use him, meaning he’s not just restricted to being in the post and he’s also not just out on the wing jacking three pointers. He’s got a lot of versatility to his game, and we try to maximize it as much as we can. I think Coach is going to try and do the same thing, and it will probably be easier because instead of passing the ball to three freshmen here, he’ll be passing to other guys who can really play there.”
Just the thought of that gets Martin on the edge of his seat.
“I can’t wait to get there, and we all just have that one goal to play and win games and then hopefully get to a championship and win it,” said Martin.
He represents the best of what new-age American basketball is all about – a player with the body of a four but the skill set of a two. And, if he continues to grow in his game and the chips fall right, Martin might just represent the dawning of a new age for LSU hoops.
Click on the link below to watch a portion of my video interview with Jarell Martin.