How Kenyon Martin is supporting his son’s decision to skip college and go pro
‘It’s on me to get him prepared and put him in the best position possible’
LAS VEGAS — Kenyon Martin was the No. 1 pick in the 2000 NBA draft after spending four years at the University of Cincinnati. Twenty years later, his son is hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps and make the NBA. But Kenyon “K.J.” Martin Jr. has decided to take the unconventional route, forgoing college to play professionally right away.
“I’ve always played basketball, and that’s all I’ve wanted to do,” Martin Jr. told ESPN’s The Undefeated. “I’ve seen a bunch of guys play in the NBA up close. It’s fun. Your job is to play basketball. Your job is to perform, and you can’t ask for anything more.
“Me performing in front of people and exciting people, that’s what I like to do. A year from now if I get drafted, it will be a dream come true.”
Martin Jr. is slated to work out for professional teams on Tuesday in Las Vegas, where scouts from the NBA G League, Australia and New Zealand are expected to attend. The workout will be conducted by renowned trainer and former NBA assistant coach Rico Hines, who has been working with the 18-year-old for more than a month at UCLA.
Martin Jr. is also open to spending the next year working out with a basketball trainer before potentially entering the 2020 NBA draft. The family is keeping its options open to avoid forcing him into a bad situation.
“We are going to show and prove,” Martin told The Undefeated. “He made a decision. It’s on me to get him prepared and put him in the best position possible to reach his ultimate goal, which is to play in the NBA.”
Martin Jr. was listed as a three-star recruit by ESPN during his senior year, the 48th-best player at power forward nationally and 24th overall in California. The 6-foot-7, 195-pound forward averaged 16.7 points and 9.8 rebounds for back-to-back California Open Division champion Sierra Canyon High last season but at times was overshadowed on a loaded roster that boasted Duke signee Cassius Stanley, Vanderbilt signee Scotty Pippen Jr. and Arizona signee Christian Koloko.
Like his father, Martin Jr. displayed high-flying athleticism, rebounding and toughness on both ends of the floor. He also learned a lot by watching his dad play.
“I remember his energy the most,” he said. “People fed off of him on the court, and when you have energy, it makes everyone else better. Everyone is up high; no one is down low. His energy helped a lot, and that is what I’m trying to bring to my game, energy, and try to help in any way my team needs.”
While Martin Jr. is still more known because of name rather than his own game, his father believes that perception will change.
“Everyone is with this ranking thing and say, ‘He is not ranked high. …’ Ranking doesn’t have anything to do with skill set. … You average a double-double on two state championship teams and they have you ranked 237th? That’s asinine to me,” said Martin Sr., who was an All-Star and played in two NBA Finals before retiring in 2015. “I know basketball well. I know what I see. I know what he needs to work on. I know what he needs to get better at. And he is willing to do it. …
“The synopsis is people just don’t know what he is capable of doing on the basketball floor. He did what his high school team needed him to do.”
Martin Jr. initially planned to play at Vanderbilt, which is now coached by former NBA star Jerry Stackhouse, but had second thoughts about his decision when five-star recruit R.J. Hampton announced on ESPN that he was signing with the New Zealand Breakers of Australia’s National Basketball League instead of playing in college. Then LaMelo Ball, brother of New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball, followed suit by signing a two-year deal with the NBL’s Illawarra Hawks, based in New South Wales, Australia.
Curious about their moves, Martin Jr. called them both to ask about their decisions.
“I talked to R.J. and LaMelo both,” Martin Jr. said. “[LaMelo] played for a year overseas [in Lithuania], and now he is going back again. I asked him what he thought about it. Now he is going out there on his own; his brother [LiAngelo] won’t be there. I talked to both to ask them what they were thinking, and we all kind of have the same mindset in what we want to accomplish.”
After those conversations, Martin Jr. deliberated with his father.
“I just asked him was he sure,” Martin Sr. said. “A lot of emotions go into that thought process. The more that I thought about it, I understood. I understand my son well. It wasn’t something that was far-fetched. I let him know everything that goes into this decision. We took about a week to make sure he still wanted to do it.
“I dug in, did some homework and let him know what people were saying. It wasn’t a popular choice. But who cares what is the popular choice? That was my thought process. I told Stackhouse, ‘You can’t send him somewhere if his heart is not in it. You can’t put him in a situation where he is not going to be all in.’ ”
Martin Sr. said he initially broke the news to Stackhouse but also made his son call him “because he needed to hear from him.”
“[Stackhouse] was upset,” Martin Jr. said. “But I had to do what was best for me.”
Martin Jr. will have options. The NBA has been yearning for a well-known high school player to take the G League route, and Martin Jr. is very open-minded about that possibility.
Romie Chaudhari, owner of the NBL’s South East Melbourne Phoenix, will also be at Tuesday’s workout and told The Undefeated he is seriously considering Martin Jr. as a prospect.
“K.J. has a lot of tools and ability that his father displayed during a very successful career in the NBA,” Chaudhari said. “So we want to definitely take a look at K.J. as we plan to work out and review a number of players over the next couple of months before making any decisions. Based on how the workout goes, we can work together with the NBL to determine if there is a fit that allows K.J. to expedite his development for the NBA.”
Martin Jr., who has yet to hire an agent, has been working on shooting off the dribble quicker, strength training, finishing creatively at the rim and being more versatile. The Chatsworth, California, native has also been playing against professionals at the Drew League in Los Angeles and in pickup games at UCLA. He said he expects to decide where he will play professionally a week after his workout.
And if Martin Jr. takes his talents overseas, his father plans to be by his side.
“Me and the wife have already talked about it, and that is something where I definitely would have to be there with boots on the ground just making sure he is fine,” Martin Sr. said. “He is still 18. He won’t be 19 until January.
“He’s still a kid, ultimately.”