Melik Martin (above) brings a needed scoring punch to the Drexel perimeter after the loss of two double-digit scorers from last year. (Photo courtesy Monmouth Athletics)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
When Melik Martin put his name into the transfer portal March 23, it was like jumping headfirst into the most turbulent section of a rapid-filled river. The York Catholic (Pa.) product was coming off his best season of collegiate basketball as a senior at Monmouth, and like more than 1,400 other Division I players this offseason so far decided to take advantage of the NCAA’s relaxed transfer and eligibility rules and explore potential options.
There were quite a few schools interested in the 6-foot-6, 210-pound wing, from mid-majors up through high-majors, but the transfer portal is not static. New players are always coming and going, some players electing to return, new coaches setting new priorities, teams’ situations changing by the day and hour.
“I was starting to learn how the portal works is a big game of musical chairs,” Martin said by phone last month. “I didn’t want to miss out on a great opportunity.”
Three weeks after entering the portal, Martin had an offer from St. Bonaventure and some high-major interest, including Pitt and West Virginia.
That’s when Drexel coach Zach Spiker reached out on Friday, April 9. The day before, Dragons sophomore T.J. Bickerstaff had put his name into the transfer portal, and Spiker found himself in need of some scoring on the wing. There was no slow pitch.
“(Spiker) was speaking about how he really wanted me as part of the program,” Martin said. “He was looking up some other statistics about my game [...] one thing that stood out to me, Coach Spiker said how good his locker room culture is, and that coming in as a leader I would have to come in and build that even more.”
Martin took a non-athletics visit to Drexel’s campus shortly thereafter, and on Tuesday he took hold of Spiker’s life raft and pulled himself out of the turbulence, making public his decision to spend his final year of collegiate eligibility in blue and gold. It’s something of a return home for Martin, who grew up with his mother in Ardmore, 15 minutes from Center City, until moving out to York to live with his father when he was 10 years old.
“I wasn’t necessarily looking to stay close to home,” he said, “[but] it is cool and definitely going to be another learning experience living in Philly, I definitely was looking to be more independent, because next year I’m going to be playing professionally, so some things I would like to adjust to and continue to learn. It’s cool to be home, but it wasn’t the selling point.”
Martin started all 20 games for Monmouth this past season, setting new career bests in scoring (12.5 ppg), rebounding (5.7/game), assists (1.7/game) and steals (1.5/game), shooting 48.4% overall and 39.7% (23-of-58) from 3-point range.
Martin (above) had a breakthrough season as a senior at Monmouth, averaging more than 12 ppg. (Photo courtesy Monmouth Athletics)
“Kid’s very versatile, he’s very intelligent, high-IQ kid,” said Pat McGlynn, Martin’s coach with the York Ballers back in his travel ball days. “He can guard multiple positions, ‘2’ through ‘4’, he actually guarded the ‘5’ at Monmouth, when they played small-ball; sees the floor extremely well.”
Martin had been a solid contributor for Monmouth each of his first three seasons, averaging 4.1 ppg and 2.6 rpg in 94 games (10 starts) as a freshman, sophomore and junior before putting it all together last year. That mirrors his path in high school, when he didn’t join the York Catholic varsity squad until junior year then burst out as a senior in 2016-17, averaging 16.7 ppg and eight-plus rebounds.
He planned on doing a year of prep school and was playing travel ball in the spring of 2017 when Monmouth offered, and he chose to go to college instead.
“It was constantly trying to get better each year, really staying engaged,” he said. “There were definitely some similarities, even confidence, understanding what I’m there to do.”
Martin’s arrival is a much-needed one for the Dragons and Spiker, who are at a crucial point in the program’s history.
The first five years of the Spiker campaign had been largely forgettable, and this year wasn’t much different; Drexel was only 9-7 (4-5 Colonial Athletic) at the end of the 2020-21 regular season, with a number of games cancelled due to opponents coming down with COVID. But then the Dragons made noise in March by winning three games at the Colonial tournament in Harrisonburg (Va.), capturing the CAA title for the first time since joining the league two decades back and earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 25 years.
That made this a crucial offseason for the Dragons to maintain momentum, which starts with keeping the roster relatively intact. Bickerstaff, a 6-9 sophomore who’d averaged 10.2 ppg and 5.2 rpg, was the only significant transfer portal loss thus far; he committed to Boston College last week.
The program’s most important piece, CAA First-Team junior guard Cam Wynter (16.3 ppg/5.2 apg) is still on board, as is all-conference 6-9 forward James Butler (12.8 ppg/9.2 rpg), though he’s in the rare position of being a sixth-year college player with redshirt junior eligibility. Another player who would be in his sixth year of college is Zach Walton (10.5 ppg/4.0 rpg), though it wouldn’t be surprising to see him forgo the extra year and turn pro. Junior 6-6 wing Mate Okros (7.1 ppg/.390 3PT%) will be back, as will a promising freshman class of 6-3 guard Xavier Bell (4.0 ppg), 6-6 wing Lamar Oden Jr. (3.7 ppg) and 6-10 big man Amari Williams (1.1 ppg).
Martin is one of two newcomers, along with 6-6 freshman wing Terrence Butler Jr. (Bishop McNamara, Md.).
“Definitely not going to walk in blind, but excited for the offseason because then I can get in with the culture, get in with the guys daily and try to push each other,” Martin said. “It’ll be new competition, which I’m excited for […] here’s more to come, more growing, more learning.”
The recruiting process was so fast and furious when Martin hit the portal, he didn’t have time to watch any tape of the Dragons before he committed, focusing on the four courses he’s taking to both finish up his undergraduate degree (business marketing) and minor (communications) as well as start on the MBA program he’ll continue at Drexel.
Now he’ll have to study up to get ready for what should hopefully be a fairly normal offseason, with workouts beginning in June or July. (Drexel is on a quarter schedule, so its offseason programs start later than schools on a semester system).
“(Spiker’s) texting me about some schemes that he’s considering for next year, asking me how I feel about them,” Martin said, “and I mean he’s the coach so I’m not trying to change his vision...but I also do want to help the team in the best way that I can, so I’m honored that he’s been communicative with me and he’s been honest."