RHODY TAKES ON FORDHAM WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 4, AT 7PM LIVE ON YURVIEW – COX CHANNEL 4.
As Atlantic 10 Conference play gets underway it’s as good a time as any to check-in with URI’s elder stateman, Malik Martin. On Wednesday evening his Rhode Island Rams (4-9, 0-1) prepare to battle the Fordham Rams (12-2, 0-1) at the Ryan Center. With slightly less than half the season in the books, the 6-foot-6 senior, Martin, averaging 7.7 points, 6.5 rebounds (team leader) and just 1.1 turnover a night despite ranking second on the team in minutes played at 30.8 per game.
We caught up to take stock of the season to date…
Chris DiSano: Atlantic 10 conference play is a different gauntlet and one you’ve been through multiple times. What advice do you have for the younger guys in attacking conference play and what’s on your mind as you get underway?
Malik Martin: It’s the start of a new season. Things haven’t been perfect for us, obviously, but the biggest thing is realizing how important each game is in this league. I feel like this year the league is so open and I think if we can get everything together, offensively, defensively, and come together as a unit… we can make a real push and be at the top of this league and I mean that. We’ve been in close games with good teams. Coach emphasizes getting us to play at our best once conference play begins and that it will roll over to February and March when it really counts. So that’s the biggest message… knowing how important each game is in this conference.
CDD: You touched upon it so let’s go here for a moment. You all have been right in the mix in many games only to see them slip away. What does it take for this team to begin closing games regularly?
MM: First and foremost, we’ve been in a lot of them and it comes with experience. We have experience with these types of games now so hopefully we can start to close them out more often. Second, it takes knowing how important each possession is and doing all the little things. Late in the game we may gamble, miss a block out, or mess up a ball screen coverage… stuff like this that shows our inexperience. It happened at Duquesne. We’re still learning, growing… and we’re practicing hard and playing hard. If we keep doing things the right way, it will fall into place.
Locking in at the end of games is the last step. At the end of the games we may tense up and may have a bad turnover, missed blockout… not thinking the game and realizing how important the little things are. But like I said, I think we’ve been honing-in on it at practice and practicing hard. I think we do have a great ability to turn the corner if we just lock in at the end of games.
CDD: Let’s talk about your role on this team this year. Last season the team was front court heavy and wanted touches to those guys early… your role last year was different, and the complexion of the team was vastly different. Where do you see yourself in terms of locking into the role this team needs you to play as its leader, and what’s your self-assessment of your play?
MM: Me and Coach Archie have a lot of talks about how I can help the team. Me being an aggressive cutter, putting pressure on the rim, attacking closeouts… and continuing to shoot when I have open looks. On the defensive end, he wants me to be a pest. With injuries, I’ll be playing more 4 now and I’m perfectly comfortable doing it. Being a pest and being physical. I want to be the hardest playing dude on the court at all times. Making winning plays when it matters. That’s where my experience and the type of person I am comes into play.
I feel like I’ve been playing solid. I’m playing to win. My whole career I’ve been a glue guy who helps teams win by doing the little things and I think I’m continuing to do that in my final year.
CDD: Fordham has had a good year so far this year. What are your thoughts about them coming into play here at the Ryan Center and the challenges they present?
MM: They’re a good team and have a physical big guy and good, aggressive guards, so we’ll need to defend at a high level. I think we have been defending at a high level for the past few games. We have to step into our shots with confidence and knock ‘em down, but I think it’s about us. Play hard, give all the effort we can.
CDD: You’ve now been with this new coaching staff for some time. Every coach that you play for leaves you with a lesson… What is one main takeaway for you that will help you as a player and person moving forward?
MM: This staff really doesn’t except anything but perfection. I know this is a cliché saying, but these guys hone in and help us realize how important each detail of the basketball game is on a different level. And Archie’s competitiveness rubs off on us. Every practice, every drill. We could be shooting free throws and he is just locked in… and I think that rubs off on us. He emphasizes doing what you do every day at a very high level – and we’re starting to get the message.
Chris DiSano is Rhode Island’s color commentator for Learfield, an Atlantic 10 analyst, and writer. He has served as the host of A-10 Live! at Men’s Basketball Media Day and founded the former College Chalktalk. DiSano can be found on Twitter at @CDiSano44