EMMITSBURG, Md. — Jamion Christian, the men’s basketball coach at Mount St. Mary’s, likes to challenge his players, sometimes pointedly, to coax a better effort out of them.
After a slow start for his new team, it’s safe to say Chris Martin was feeling pressure to play better. Some of it was being applied by his coach. Some of it was bubbling from within.
“I am not going to lie. It was difficult,” the junior guard said of his acclimation process to Mount St. Mary’s after spending two unsatisfying seasons in the higher levels of Division I at Marshall.
The transfer forced Martin to sit out last season, while attending classes and participating in practices at Mount St. Mary’s. That’s why Tuesday night’s game at Notre Dame was such a revelation, not only for the Mountaineers but for Martin.
He scored a career-high 19 points on 50 percent shooting from the floor (5 of 9 from 3-point range) in the Mount’s 93-67 loss to the 25th-ranked Fighting Irish.
For the first time, he showed real glimpses of the player the Mountaineers (2-5) expected him to be.
“It was a little bit of a relief,” Martin said. “I was struggling through the first seven games. But I kept putting the work in. I stuck with the game plan and ended up having a good day.”
The 6-foot, 185-pound Martin comes by his basketball genes honorably. His father, Bill, played for three Georgetown teams that reached the NCAA title game, including the 1984 championship team. He was drafted in the second round and played three seasons in the NBA.
Chris, 21, has been striving to fulfill his basketball potential as well. At St. Patrick High School Academy in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Martin was considered one of the top 110 seniors in the country. He was nominated for the McDonald’s All-American Game.
— Chris Martin
After St. Patrick went 26-1 and earned a No. 3 national ranking from ESPN Rise Fab 50 during his senior season, Martin landed at Marshall, where he appeared in 41 games during two seasons. But, for whatever reason, Martin’s game just never flourished with the Thundering Herd. He struggled to earn playing time and didn’t always see eye to eye with the coaches. So, he filed a request to transfer.
“Coach Christian was the first coach to call me when I got my transfer release from Marshall,” Martin said. “He really seemed like he wanted me. I really felt the love here.”
For Martin, who said he experienced a lot of negativity at Marshall, Mount St. Mary’s provided a fresh start.
“There’s a lot of positivity here,” he said. “I wanted to be around positive things, positive people, and just play great basketball.”
However, despite having a year to acclimate himself to his new school, the transition on the court has not been entirely smooth. In the season opener against Arizona, Martin played 33 minutes off the bench and finished with five points, three rebounds, an assist and two turnovers.
Martin played just 14 minutes the next game, a 53-41 home-opening loss to Maryland-Eastern Shore, and finished with two points. After the game, he was one of the players Christian singled out as needing to play better.
“This is the first time in three years he’s been a main guy that people are counting on,” Christian said. “We have been bringing him along slowly.
“With transfers, it takes a little bit of time to understand what their role is. His role for us is to score the basketball and play very solid defense.”
After two more quiet games coming off the bench, Martin started the Dec. 2 game at Seton Hall, a 78-55 loss. He played 32 minutes and scored 10 points.
He started the Dec. 6 game at Loyola, a 74-65 victory, and finished with seven points and five rebounds in 20 minutes. Then, he started and had his best game yet against Notre Dame.
His shooting percentage, which the team is counting on, has slowly risen. In the past two games, it’s been right at 50 percent.
“It was something new. I had to get my feet wet a little bit,” Martin said. “Now, I feel like I’m in rhythm. I am feeling more comfortable with the offense and playing for coach. Hopefully, it all goes up from here.”