Steve Donahue (above) landed his first 2019 commitment in Ohio junior Max Martz last week. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Coming out of the AAU season last summer, Max Martz already held several Division I basketball offers.
But he didn’t have one yet from the league he was really hoping to play in -- the Ivy League.
So the Upper Arlington (Ohio) rising junior and his parents signed up for elite camps hosted at Penn and Princeton in August, hoping to catch the attention of the Quakers’ or Tigers’ staffs.
Penn coach Steve Donahue didn’t let the 6-foot-6, 210-pound wing with three-level scoring ability leave feeling ignored. Just the opposite, in fact.
“(Donahue) had noticed me at the camp and was talking to me a lot through it, and he watched me play a lot during the camp,” Martz said. “It was really shocking when he came up to me afterwards and gave me the [roster] offer. It was unbelievable.”
Martz and the Penn staff quickly developed a quick relationship; he came back to visit the campus for the Red & Blue scrimmage in October, at which point, he said, “I really fell in love with the place...and there was no question in my mind Penn was the place I wanted to end up.”
As his junior year progressed, Martz was hearing from Big Ten programs like Ohio State, Northwestern and Nebraska, where his father, Matt Martz, played (sparingly) for four years in the mid-80s. But none of them were going to overtake the leader. So he made the decision to end his recruitment early, making public his commitment to Penn at the end of last week.
“That was just the place I felt best, and if any other school had offered me, I still would have chosen Penn regardless,” he said, “which is why I made the decision when I did.”
As a junior at Upper Arlington, Martz is the second-leading scorer behind senior and Notre Dame commit Dane Goodwin. The two led the Golden Bears to the OHSSA Division I regional semifinals last year, where they lost to Pickerington North and Indiana commit Jerome Hunter.
He showed off his impressive scoring ability this summer in Pennsylvania, where he scored 26 points to lead his OH Nova-Russell 16U squad to the Hoop Group’s Summer Jam Fest championship, including six 3-pointers.
“I think they’re getting a tremendous player with gigantic room for growth and improvement,” 17th-year Upper Arlington coach Tim Casey told CoBL. “although I think he’s very good already, he’s going to get bigger and stronger, he can do so many things, and he’s even a better person than he is a player. I just feel very fortunate to have coached him, and I’m glad he’s coming back for one more year.”
Martz said he didn’t know too much about Penn prior to his first visit to the City of Brotherly Love this fall, but he got a quick education. That was thanks in large part to former Penn guard Scott Kegler, another Upper Arlington product who played in 101 games at Penn from 1991-95, averaging 8.0 ppg and 3.0 rpg in his senior year.
Kegler’s younger brother, still lives in Ohio and knows the Martz family, and he set the two up.
“(Scott) definitely told us about how the Palestra was such a special place, one of the all-time best stadiums in the country in my opinion -- and in everyone’s opinion, probably,” Martz said. “He talked to us a lot about that, the great coaching history and tournament history at Penn, so we got to get a lot more familiar with the history of the program.”
Kegler is certainly familiar with Penn’s history of March Madness appearances, having played in the big dance each year from his sophomore through senior seasons. Those were the first three of nine NCAA Tournaments for Penn under Fran Dunphy (1989-2006), part of 23 the Quakers’ program has participated in.
But Penn hasn’t been back since 2007, the first year under the Glen Miller era, which began in prosperity and ended well behind in the Ivy pecking order thanks to the emergence of Harvard and, eventually, Yale. It’s the longest NCAA drought since the Quakers went from 1953 to 1970 between appearances, 16 straight years.
Martz is the first commitment for Penn in the class of 2019. The Quakers already have one committed player for 2018, Mater Dei (Cali.) forward Michael Wang, but they’re not expecting to add too much to it, with a 21-man roster this year projected to returning nine of its top 12 minute-getters a year from now.
By the time Martz gets to campus, Penn will have to replace current juniors Max Rothschild and Jackson Donahue as well from the rotation. There’s plenty to like about the current sophomore class, which includes cornerstones A.J. Brodeur and Ryan Betley, plus a promising group of freshman: Jarrod Simmons, Eddie Scott and Jelani Williams.
“I think it’s great, being able to play with guys like Betley and Brodeur, that’ll really help me and their leadership will guide me,” Martz said. “When I get there as a freshman, the team should be pretty talented, which should be really fun to start my season off like that.”
Indeed, Martz’s commitment is the first since Penn has seemingly turned the corner from the initial phases of its rebuild to the competitive stage. The Quakers currently sit at 12-6 overall and 3-0 in the Ivy league, the program’s best overall start to the year in about 15 seasons, and it doesn’t look like that should stop anytime soon.
Most of Martz’s teammates committed to Donahue, now in his third year as Penn’s head coach, when he was just getting the ball rolling after three straight single-digit-win seasons under former head coach Jerome Allen. Martz is the first to commit to a team that’s winning.
“The program’s definitely on an upward spiral right now,” he said. “With the direction the program’s going, it was definitely a no-brainer in terms of why I committed there.”