Coaching changes usher in expected roster transition and volatility. At Rhode Island, several players entered the transfer portal beginning on March 14th, 2022.
Malik Martin was the first, exploring his options and waiting to see how the situation settled.
A week after Archie Miller was hired, Martin withdrew his name from the portal – electing to finish out his career in Kingston.
First in, first out.
It was a significant decision for Martin and an equally significant early signal of stability for Miller and staff.
Martin, who paired tough defense with 7.6ppg, 5.4rpg and 50.9% field goal shooting, is a productive college basketball player who can impact the game on both ends. More importantly, he’s a high character kid from a high character family poised to fill a massive leadership role in his final year in Keaney Blue.
He’s the type of kid that teammates respect, coaches trust, and fans clap a bit harder for because he wears it on his sleeve, competes, and cares.
I sat down with Martin to discuss last season, this transitional period, and what’s next.
Chris DiSano: Let’s rewind briefly back to last season. You made a significant, all-around, jump in your game. What did you learn most about yourself throughout the year?
Malik Martin: My confidence grew as a basketball player. I realized my strengths offensively, but particularly defensively in terms of how versatile I could be. Some games I could score and needed to, some games I could rebound. I really accepted my role. That’s something that a lot of people struggle to do. I’ve struggled to do sometimes in my college career, but I think I really accepted my role last year.
CDD: I agree. What do you think flipped the switch for you?
MM: I just want to win. It didn’t turn out like that [last year] but sometimes that happens. I trusted the coaches, doing what’s best for the team.
CDD: When the coaching situation unfolded and prior to Coach [Archie] Miller being hired, did you think you would remain at Rhode Island?
MM: I was 50/50. I didn’t want to transfer again, but there was a chance based upon who was brought in that it might be the best situation. Playing for a coach who didn’t recruit you can be hard sometimes. I was trying to weigh my options and see what situation would be the best. After speaking with Coach Miller, my parents, my brothers, I decided to stay.
Coach Miller told me he was going to trust me. He emphasized how much he wanted me and needed me — and that was big for me. When someone wants and needs you that’s always a good sign. His history as a coach: He can definitely turn things around, run a program, and win games. I have one year left and winning is important. How he is going to coach; defense, discipline, and doing whatever it takes for me/us to have the best year we could possibly have, is big.
One more go round @RhodyMBB @Archie_Miller 💙💙💙🐏🐏🐏 pic.twitter.com/V51broLTb5
— Malik Martin (@TheProdigy__) March 25, 2022
CDD: Growing up in a close family, a big family, a disciplined family. How much did his message resonate with you given your upbringing?
MM: Even though he didn’t know me personally upon coming in, he spoke to people about me and learned. We talked and he told me how he was going to coach me as well as the rest of the team. Knowing myself and how I grew up I knew I could handle it. He’s a disciplined guy but one thing I’ve gotten to know over the past six weeks that he’s also a fun guy to talk to and be around. He’s not a serious guy all the time.
I’ve been around, I know the ropes, I’ve been in college… he’s emphasized me leading.
CDD: In terms of the Rhode Island legacy in your family… the community here thinks highly of you… Sure, it’s a basketball decision and basketball is an enormous part of it, but it’s not just basketball. How important is it to finish out at Rhody given how you’ve come to call this place a second home?
MM: It was very important. What my brother (Hassan) built here, among others, was pretty special. I’ve been here for two years and I’m comfortable here. I didn’t want to transfer and adjust twice to two different environments. I’ve got friends here, I love playing in the Ryan Center. I pretty much love everything about the State of Rhode Island – that made me want to stay at the end of the day.
CDD: What are your other early learnings about Coach Miller?
MM: He likes to do everything fast-paced and up-tempo. He’s very disciplined. He shows a lot of knowledge in workouts. He emphasizes us improving our shooting as a team. The way he runs offense requires us to knock-down shots. Personally, he knows about everybody in the basketball world. He watches it all day. He’s a junkie and can tell you statistics, coaches and philosophies; he just loves the game.
CDD: A couple of new assistants in Kenny Johnson and Duane Woodward join the program, and assistant coach Austin Carroll is staying on board. What are your thoughts about the new staff and Austin remaining?
MM: I was familiar with Coach Woodward. He recruited me out of high school at Monmouth. I knew him which was good. He’s a good coach and great guy. Kenny Johnson seems like a great guy from meeting him recently. Austin, obviously, he’s a great person to keep. Having somebody you can be more comfortable with during the transition has helped. We have a pretty close relationship.
Please everybody stop bashing kids for entering the portal, you never know what is going on in our lives, sometimes it’s much bigger than basketball💯 https://t.co/qEqatv5ut0
— Malik Martin (@TheProdigy__) March 22, 2022
CDD: Let’s drill down on you and your offseason goals. What are you focused on?
MM: Shooting the ball at a much higher level. Decision-making with the ball – I get sped up sometime. I’ve also been very focused on staying locked-in, healthy, and taking care of my body. I spend a lot of time in the training room doing a bunch of exercises and keeping my strength in my legs.
CDD: Let’s put a cherry on the sundae. What are your expectations for your role on this team next year?
MM: Leadership. I’ve always been a leader by example. I’m going to need to talk at a much higher level, a Draymond Green type of level, because this team is going to need me to be vocal. Defensively, I need to be a massive dog. I showed that last year but I think I can take it up to another level. Offensively, if I can shoot the ball much better I’ll help the team.
Chris DiSano, is 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, who was named NBC Sports top Atlantic 10 basketball follow on Twitter for five straight years, can be found on Twitter at @CDiSano44