Canada's Martin matures on and off the court
By Vytas Mazeika
Daily News Staff Writer
Manny Martin doesn't back down from a fight in the post, which is a good thing for the Canada College men's basketball team. But growing up, the 25-year-old didn't back down from a fight in general, which was bad for Manny Martin.
"It's a story tell, I guess, where I was at and where I am now," he said.The 6-foot-6 sophomore power forward with the Colts constantly ran away from home as a kid. At age 11 or 12, Martin was sent to a boot camp in San Luis Obispo akin to the A&E series Beyond Scared Straight.
"And it didn't work," he said. "I used to fight almost every single day."Martin was expelled from middle school and sent to a boarding school in Utah that more resembled a juvenile facility. Then his mother passed away in 2006.
"That's kind of when I looked myself in the mirror and, I guess, you could say in a way found who I was," Martin said.He returned to Los Angeles, but never played basketball at Fairfax High. Then one day he joined a pickup basketball game at Santa Monica College. The coach asked Martin if he wanted to work out with the team, and it wasn't long before he was playing tournaments and entering dunk contests in Venice Beach.
"To be honest with you, when I was in L.A., basketball really saved my life," said Martin, who has two biological daughters who live with their mother in Modesto and is the father figure to a 7-year-old girl he's known since Day 1 of her life. "So it was just something that I really believe in my heart that without it, I could have definitely exited on a completely different path and went the wrong direction, for sure."Word got out about this raw talent and then-Canada coach Peter Diepenbrock, who guided Palo Alto High to a state championship in 2006, flew down to visit Martin.
"Anybody that ever asks me about Diepenbrock, I'll tell them he saved my life," Martin said. "If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be where I'm at today. We had our ups and downs and our problems, but he was a good man and it's emotional to talk about him."As a freshman during the 2009-10 season, Martin was a force to be reckoned with. He remembers ranking in the top 20 in the state in scoring and third in rebounding.
But the team struggled in conference play and finished with a 10-14 record. Martin, who failed to adjust to the discipline and structure in his first full season of organized basketball, wasn't in the starting lineup for the last seven games."I wasn't ready for basketball yet," said Martin, who admits he made a lot of bad choices. "I recognize that and Diepenbrock recognized it and everybody recognized that."
"He was a troubled kid for sure," said Oladele Sobomehin, a mentor to Martin and founder of Team Esface, a year-round basketball academy for boys and girls established in 2005 with headquarters in East Palo Alto and gym locations in Redwood City and Menlo Park. "It was obvious he had a very bad attitude, a hot temper, was quick to get into a scuffle with his opponent. But he had a lot of youthful energy and he was a pretty positive kid for the most part. He enjoyed the game of basketball, just how he dealt with conflict revealed his lack of character."
Two months after Martin decided not to return for his sophomore season with the Colts, he was shot outside a bar in Fremont.
"Just wrong place, wrong time and I was targeted," he said.It was the night of Dec. 12, 2010. Martin got into an altercation with a man. As he tells, words and punches were exchanged. Friends of the other guy, who went back to his car, began to punch and step on Martin. Eventually able to get up, he said he ran about 4 feet when a loud boom reverberated.
"I looked down and I actually saw the bullet go through my chest," said Martin, who managed to run another couple of blocks. "I remember putting my left hand on a white car and then laughing and saying, 'I just got shot.' And the next thing I remember I was in a hospital bed two days later."Wake-up call
When he woke up from a coma, Martin had a shattered scapula, fractured rib, punctured lung. It wasn't until March that he regained feeling in his left arm and shoulder. He was unable to get back on the court until September of 2011.An opportunity arose to play J.C. basketball in Seattle the next year, but that didn't work out. Instead, he ended up in a small town called Centralia and blew out his right knee trying to join the local college basketball team.
Martin returned to the Bay Area for his rehab and rejoined Team Esface as a coach, a job for which he was first hired in the summer of 2010."I wanted to invest in him and I saw the potential in him becoming a great coach," said Sobomehin, who next week will meet with Martin to look at pros and cons of scholarship offers from four-year colleges. "And with that opportunity, obviously he would learn a lot of life lessons along the way."
Just like there were ups and downs his freshman season at Canada, there were rough patches with Team Esface."There was obviously a learning curve and it wasn't a very smooth road," Sobomehin said. "There were plenty of times where he would get into little scuffles or conflicts with other coaches, so the chemistry was always an issue, although he would always be good with the kids."
Back to college
A successful stint in 2014 at the San Francisco Pro-Am basketball summer league at Kezar, where he got to guard NBA players such as Stephen Curry of the Warriors and Isaiah Thomas of the Celtics, rekindled his passion for organized basketball."I was actually able to stand my ground, so I made a decision that maybe it's time to see where my basketball career can go," Martin said. "I felt mentally ready, emotionally ready, physically ready to try this college thing again."
Via email he contacted Canada coach Mike Reynoso, who heard through the grapevine that Martin had expressed interest in returning after a three-season hiatus.The question was, would Martin see this through until the end?
"Everybody has problems that they run into in life," Reynoso said. "And for him, really seeing his growth and maturity through this year is just unbelievable. Who he's become as a young man is great to see. More than all the stats and every accolade that you can give him on the court, he's just really bought into the program and bought into the philosophy of what we do."
The final four
Martin averages 11.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.2 steals on the fourth-highest scoring team in the state. The Colts (24-6) completed a turnaround from a five-win season to reach the four-team state community college championships, which tip off tonight at El Cerritos College in Norwalk.Diepenbrock joined the Colts bandwagon this season, and he was in the stands when Canada won on the road to clinch a spot in the final four.
"When I came away from these last several games that I've watched, the thing that I tell people is that Manny is playing basketball," Diepenbrock said. "The light is going on. ... He's playing like a team guy. He's a much different player now than when I had him, and it probably goes with him being a much different person, I gotta figure."The Colts began the season 19-2, then faced adversity for the first time during a five-game stretch in which they lost four times. Reynoso called a team meeting after back-to-back crushing losses that ended any hopes of a conference title.
"I was expecting us to sit in the meeting and Coach yell at us and people point fingers and blame it on the next person," Martin said. "But Coach put up a YouTube video of Kevin Garnett and how hungry he was, and he showed us what a championship team is really about."The 19-year-old version of Manny Martin might have been one of those people to point fingers. Maybe he runs his mouth at the coach and gets benched after making yet another bad choice.
The 25-year-old version is a catalyst on a team contending for a state championship, and those who know him best hope there's not a relapse in his future."People that know me say that I'm a scorer," Martin said. "They say, 'Manny, you can put the ball in the hoop.' On this team, they want me to do the little things. They want me to rebound, they want me to take charges. I love that stuff. I love battling inside, I enjoy the physicality, I enjoy just the fight inside."