GREEN Four years ago, Kaleb Martin watched then-Green senior Austin Marciniak put the finishing touches on a new school scoring record.
Even then, Martin knew one thing for sure; he wanted that record and to put himself on a list that includes top players in program history, including Marciniak, Dan Fannelly and other players who have been standouts for the Bulldogs over the years.
Fast forward four years and Martin is now the senior with the newly minted school scoring record, just as he imagined as an eighth grader watching Marciniak shoot his own way to history.
“It was a great feeling, but at same time, it wasn’t what I was focused on because it was a close game against a rival like Lake, so I wanted to get the win,” Martin said.
The scoring record came in a 65-52 win that both cemented Martin’s place in the record book and cemented the Bulldogs’ status as the favorites for the Federal League title. Near the end of the win, head coach Mark Kinsley called a timeout so Martin could exit the court to a standing ovation from the home fans. He ended the night with 1,260 points, eclipsing Marciniak's previous mark of 1,242.
With the season winding down, Martin and his teammates have a leg up on their closest pursuer, Jackson, with one league loss to the Polar Bears’ two and a key road win at Jackson earlier this season in their back pocket.
Simply put, the Polar Bears need to win out - including an upcoming rematch at Green next week - to chase down a team whose only league loss to date is a four-point road defeat to an improving Hoover team earlier in the season.
Driving the Bulldogs is Martin, a 5-foot-9 guard who may not be an imposing physical presence, but whose height hasn’t kept him from striking fear into the hears of Federal League rivals over the past four years.
He’s shown the ability to score from the perimeter and attack the basket and has been a fixture on the varsity level his entire high school career. Before that career began, he had one fateful moment with the player whose scoring record he would target and go on to break.
“I remember watching Austin when I was in eighth grade shooting ball with so much confidence,” Martin said. “After watching him play, I told him going to get it (the record) and he just kind of laughed and said, ‘Go for it.’”
Kinsley, who has been on the bench for two decades and has seen some of the best players in school history come through the program, says Martin’s versatility is his best asset.
“With the scoring aspect, he can score in so many different ways … a lot of guys might be a jump shooter or drive or be good post players, but Kaleb is a good 3-point shooter, he has the best pull up jumper off dribble of anyone I’ve ever coached, he can get to basket, he can post up and he’s shooting about 94 percent on free throw line this season,” Kinsley said.
No one has been laughing at Martin on the court these days, although despite his scoring prowess, he doesn’t have any college scholarship offers. It’s not difficult to trace that lack of offers to the one thing that can impede a player most when it comes to interest from college basketball coaches - height.
“I feel like that’s one thing,” Martin said of why he hasn’t gotten any offers yet. “But it’s not what I’m focused on, because I want to help my team win and keep playing well.”
When it comes to the subject of Martin not having any scholarship offers yet, his coach is a bit mystified. Marciniak, who was several inches taller, signed with Nova Southeastern, while Fannelly, who was the tallest of three, played at the College of Wooster. Kinsley sees Martin play against opponents who have multiple scholarship offers and believes he’s proven himself better than those players.
He’s confident Martin will get a chance to play, likely at the Division II level, and will prove wrong anyone who doubted his ability to succeed in college basketball.
The irony, when it comes to the scoring record, is that while he’s worked toward the goal for the past four years, Martin says he wasn’t always aware of exactly where he stood in the rankings as he’s progressed through his career. When he reached 1,000 points as a junior last season, he didn’t realize it until after the game.
This time around, he knew about his milestone, as did his grandmother, Barbara Smith, who lives in Akron and has been a fixture at her grandson’s games in both middle and high school. “My grandma and her friends come to my games and it’s great to have her there,” Martin said. “I don’t think she’s missed a game since I was in seventh grade.”
That kind of support has made the ride all the more fun for Martin, who’s seeking to close out his career with something no other Green senior before him has achieved - consecutive Federal League titles. After sharing the title last season with Jackson and Lake, Green is in prime position for a second straight championship and if it happens, Martin and his fellow seniors will claim their place in school history. “In this league never know who's going to win on a given night,” Martin said. “It feels great to be at the top, but we can't settle or feel like we’ve got it locked up.”