By Trey Mongrue
That’s all it took to derail Jarell Martin’s freshman season at LSU. He remembers it well, too.
“We were in transition going down on a fast break,” Martin recalls. “I was going up for a dunk, but got pushed in the back and landed on my ankle wrong.”
In the grand scheme of things, the minor high ankle sprain that Martin suffered in LSU basketball’s season opener at Massachusetts last year was a mere blip more than anything.
He would return just ten days later, missing only two games. But it definitely put a damper on a season that began with such optimism for LSU – mainly because of what Martin was projected to become sooner, rather than later.
“It was a real disappointment for me,” he said. “Not knowing if I would be playing at the beginning of the season, it hurt me a lot.”
Even with the tipoff the tipoff for the 2014-15 season now less than a month away, Martin’s setback last season is still fresh in the mind of LSU coach Johnny Jones as well.
His plan for Martin was for him to contribute big minutes at both the small forward and power forward positions. However, the early injury threw a wrench into those plans.
“Coming back he wasn’t 100 percent,” said Jones. “It took him awhile, and for him, I have to commend him because as a freshman, he had to learn two positions that were really opposite. He was really able to pass that test, and I thought he really became one of our best players at the end of the season.”
In hindsight, it would have been too much of a fairy tale for Martin to throw down a thunderous dunk that early in his first collegiate game of his career. After all, coming from a successful four years full of accolades and individual honors at Madison Prep, Martin entered LSU as the crown jewel of the 2013 recruiting class.
And if anything has been learned about LSU basketball in recent years, a program searching for its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2009, it’s that happy endings are hard to come by.
But in ironic fashion, considering how much fanfare went along with his arrival, Martin closed out his freshman year on a solid, but kind of quiet, note. He notched double-figures in points in 11 of LSU’s final 15 games and was named to the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman Team.
After working on some things in the offseason, he thinks he’s much improved.
“I’m attacking the rim pretty hard and knocking down wide open shots,” said Martin. “Overall, I feel like every aspect of my game has improved.
And with veterans like Johnny O’Bryant III, Andre Stringer and Shavon Coleman departed, one of those aspects that Martin has improved on is becoming the leader of a team, that all of the sudden is lacking experience.
“I’m one of the higher guys and leaders,” he explained. “I know that I can create something for this team. The coaches and players believe that I can do it.”
Just ask freshman Aaron Epps who, because he has been playing a lot of small forward in practice, has become particularly close with Martin.
“He leads vocally and on the court,” Epps said. “He hustles on every play and is just at a very high level. I want to get to that level so I’m learning from him and he has really helped me get used to playing here.”
Whether it has been assuming the team leadership role, changing his eating habits to drop 15 pounds this offseason to increase his speed or spending extra time on the practice courts to work on his jump shot, it’s clear that Martin has one thing on his mind.
He wants to win and win a lot.
But considering how last season began for him, Martin may be a little leery of LSU’s opener with Gardner-Webb on November 15th.
If he gets past the first the first 33 seconds of that one, though, then the rest of the country better look out.
“I believe in myself and I believe in my team,” he said. “I led my team to a state championship in high school and I definitely think that I can lead this team to somewhere good as well. So it’s important that I stay healthy this time.”