Sam Istvan (@hooplove215)
Melik Martin is the new kid on the block. Though “kid” is not remotely the right word to describe the graduate transfer from Monmouth.
In fact, sit down with Martin, a native of York (Pa.), for just a few minutes and you’ll discover his wise and well-adjusted perspective on basketball and life.
Melik Martin (above) scored 20 points as Drexel beat FDU on Thursday night. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“Everyday is a fight.” Martin said. “Coach [Zach Spiker] talks about how I come ready to practice every day. That's something I've learned in my time at Monmouth. Come ready every day and reap the benefits.”
On Thursday night against Fairleigh Dickinson, Drexel needed a spark, as star senior guard, Camren Wynter struggled to assume his usual offensive presence. Martin came ready to fight and he reaped the benefits.
Scoring 20 points for the second time this season, the 6-foot-6 Martin was a major reason that Drexel found itself coming away from a rescheduled matchup with an 86-65 win, improving to 4-3 on the season.
Martin came out hot, scoring 11 first-half points and propelling a Drexel offense that struggled on the half from the perimeter (1-10 3PT) to a 38-30 halftime lead.
In a game moved due to FDU travel issues — the Knights’ bus broke down on the way to Philadelphia for their Nov. 12 matchup — played in front of a half-empty gym, Martin contributed not just in the box score but also imbued his team with a much-needed energy and physicality.
Those qualities didn’t go unnoticed by Spiker.
“He plays hard, he plays with aggression, he plays with force,” Spiker said of his fifth-year wing. “Physically, he’s able to do some things on offense to help us out.”
Martin showcased a well-rounded offensive game Thursday, taking advantage of an increased workload due to Wynter’s quiet night, as he penetrated the lane, finished at the rim, found open teammates under the basket and around the 3-point line, and even cashed in two triples of his own.
Thursday was another step in the right direction for the transfer, as the new guy continues to find his footing with the defending CAA champs.
Through seven games, he’s averaging 11.3 ppg and 3.3 rpg, shooting 57.9% overall and 8-of-16 from the 3-point arc. That offensive production’s been key for a team that lost double-digit wing scorers Zach Walton (graduation) and T.J. Bickerstaff (transfer) from last year’s roster.
“There’s an art to being new and it doesn't work all the time.” Spiker remarked. “You’ve got to understand what it's like to be the new guy and you’ve got to buy into what we're doing.”
Martin’s leadership and team mentality were on display all night, as he never stopped talking on either end, encouraging teammates, calling out screens, and helping to position teammates mid-possession. The Philadelphia native, who moved to York before high school and maintains close ties to both areas, also notched five assists, a season high, tying his career best.
“I’ve got shooters on this team.” Martin said, “so I'm communicating with them, telling them I’m not hesitating to pass it to them. Don't hesitate when you catch it, let it rip.”
Clearly, Martin embraces the communication that is part of his leadership role. Make no mistake though, he still wants to be a better leader.
“I'm still learning how to be a leader,” said Martin, who’s working on his MBA. “I'm trying to do better and continue to do better. It’s every day.”
Spiker voiced his appreciation of Martin’s inclination to learn and get better.
“I couldn't be more proud of his coachability and willingness to want to improve and get better.”
James Butler (above) set a new career high with 25 points in Drexel's win. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Of course, Martin isn’t the only leader on this Drexel team. Fifth-year big man James Butler has plenty of experience as well and he performed to his usual standards Thursday night, scoring a career-high 25 points (10-14 fg) and grabbing 14 rebounds, taking advantage of FDU’s lack of a traditional big man.
FDU freshman Anquan Hill, an Archbishop Carroll grad, dealt admirably with Butler in the first half, showing good energy and defensive presence and even nearly throwing down a posterizer on the Drexel big that resulted in free throws. Hill finished with five points, five rebounds and three blocks in 25 minutes
The undersized-but-scrappy FDU team hung onto the game for a while and the Drexel lead looked precarious as Butler and Martin sat on the bench in foul trouble for a stretch early in the second half.
It was sophomore guard Xavier Bell who came to the rescue as he entered the game and scored six straight Drexel points to keep FDU at arm’s length after the visitors got as close as 55-52 with 10:26 remaining.
Once Martin and Butler reentered, it was off to the races as Drexel uncorked a 13-0 run highlighted by a no-look touch pass by Martin that resulted in a 3-pointer by junior forward Mate Okros (12 points) as the shot clock expired.
As Drexel enters its final tune-up stretch before conference play begins near the end of the month, they’re going to need Martin to continue to grow and find his role within his new team. For his part, a determined and focused Martin has his eyes on the big picture and the big dance.
“Some people on this team are trying to go back to back,” he said. “I'm trying to earn my first one. So we’re trying to get a ring and then we’re gonna try and go make more noise after that.”