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HOLDING COURT : St. Anthony's Martin Plays Game as If He's on the Floor by Himself

February 18, 1988|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | Times Staff Writer

Live from the playground at Our Lady of Victory school in Compton, for two or three hours on most weekends, it's the Darrick Martin Show, starring one of the best high school point guards in the country.

Watch him dribble downcourt, one-on-four, with 10 seconds left in the game. Get ready for a quick behind-the-back pass, or maybe a 360-degree spin move down the lane. A move for every moment. He's unstoppable.

What's that? There really are no defenders out there?

Details, details. Martin, the 6-foot ballhandling whiz at St. Anthony of Long Beach, sees them, if only in his mind. They're there, the opposition only he can detect. This is his stage, after all.

There is, of course, a method to this madness. Martin, a lock to be named All-Southern Section 5-A for the second straight season, sets up the game-like situations in his mind and then goes out and plays them for real, even if the defense isn't. So when he gets in a game--the real stage--he has faced every situation.

"I have seen it and tried it already," Martin said. "It's like second nature. I don't think about it when I'm coming down the court. I don't even have to think about it.

"Some of the things I do, it's become like habit. I'm not out there showing off, but that is how my game has developed. I practiced doing those things. It's not being lucky."

Keep on playing those mind games. Martin is only 16 (he skipped fifth grade), but, with his flashy dribbling and passing, he controls the tempo of a game like few others. His statistics are equally impressive, having averaged 33.4 points and 11 assists through the 25 games of the regular season.

Now, imagine this: St. Anthony, champion of the Camino Real League, winning the Southern Section championship. The Saints (21-4) are the third-seeded team in the major division heading into tonight's first-round game at home against Edison of Huntington Beach (16-10).

The true dream-like sequence is what has happened to Martin in the past year.

In February of 1987, then-Coach Tom Roanhaus was having to convince people that his 5-11 junior point guard was a big-time player. The 31-point-a-game average was legitimate, he said.

Months later, Martin made the tour of the summer camps, and Roanhaus would have to sell no longer. The basketball world believed, especially after Martin's showing at the Nike camp in Princeton, N.J.

No one knows exactly how to describe the sudden change, but "explosion" comes to mind. The same player who three months earlier was being shown true interest by only Cal State Long Beach was suddenly regarded as the No. 1 point guard in the nation.

Would the defenders at Our Lady of Victory believe this?

"It was wild," said Jesse Martin, his father. "The phone started ringing at all times of the night. People were calling to say how great he had done that day and the interest they had in recruiting him. People were calling me at work. My secretary would say, 'Who are these people?' She's be taking messages from Duke, Walt Hazzard, Arizona, all the big names. I'd come in in the morning and get my messages, and people would stand around and look at my notes."

Martin narrowed his college choices to Nevada Las Vegas, Arizona, Duke, Notre Dame and UCLA before picking the Bruins and becoming the instant heir apparent to junior Pooh Richardson at point guard. The deciding factor, his father says, was Darrick's commitment to staying close to Andre, his younger brother (by 11 months) who is learning disabled.

"He was on his way to Arizona, signed, sealed and delivered," Jesse Martin said. "If he knew his mother and I would make arrangements for Andre to get down there (Tucson) to see the games, it might have been different."

The changes in the past 12 months have been easily noticeable to Darrick, too. He heard the talk, before and after, and what the crowds and friends say is as different as what the college coaches said.

"Last year, if I scored 40 points in a game, it would be like, 'Wow, he's good,' " said Martin, who has led the Saints in scoring in all but one game this season. "This year, if I don't score at least 36 or 38 it's, 'Darrick didn't have a good game.' One time I scored 29 points and had 15 assists and people were saying the next day, 'Hey, you didn't have that good a game.'

"Last year, I could tell people were skeptical. He's too little, or he's too slow or he's not strong enough. But they're not making excuses for Darrick Martin anymore. They understand that I'm a good player."

To be sure. That much isn't just in his mind.

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