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Books before basketball: Kenyon Martin schools his son on the importance of academics

The former NBA star gives his son a hard lesson off the court

Former NBA No. 1 draft pick Kenyon Martin was sitting courtside watching a basketball game when he yelled, “Hey!” just as a young kid went up for a dunk.

Kenyon Martin Jr. flew high into the air and dunked hard on some poor kid just like his daddy used to. The proud papa jumped to his feet holding his young daughter in celebration during one of many dunks to come for the Chaminade College Preparatory School sophomore forward. But Kenyon Martin Sr. is actually more proud of his maturing son’s newfound success in the classroom than what he is doing on the court.

“He was excited to be on the court and his energy level showed it,” Martin Sr. told The Undefeated. “So I’m proud and happy for him. I’m enjoying the moment. I’m a proud father. He’s getting there. He’s eligible. I’m just trying to get him to understand the importance of school.

“He gets it, but I’m trying to drill it in. He understands the circumstances of not being able to play last year. He knows basketball is not a given.”

Martin Jr. entered Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village, California, during the 2015-16 school-year as a 6-foot-4 freshman expected to play varsity at 14 years old. The oldest of Martin Sr.’s five children has similar stunning athleticism to his father. His hands are already bigger than his dad’s, and he is expected to be taller than 6-foot-9. The University of Washington sent an inquiring letter before he even played a high school game, Martin Sr. said.

While basketball skills weren’t a question for the son of the 2004 NBA All-Star who retired last year, effort in school was quite a different story. Martin Jr.’s first report card had a 0.6 grade point average, and he wasn’t turning in his homework. Martin Sr. also said his son had an attitude problem and was not taking care of responsibilities at home.

Kenyon Martin Jr

Kenyon Martin Jr

Marc J Spears/The Undefeated

“It was laziness,” Martin Jr. told The Undefeated.

Martin Sr. responded strongly and swiftly by taking his son out of Oaks Christian School after the first semester. There was harsh punishment in the process as Martin Jr. was also taken off the basketball team, and his cellular phone and computer were taken away. Embarrassment came with it, too.

Dad forced the focus to suddenly be strictly school and nothing else.

“I took it personal,” Martin Jr. said. “It’s kind of sad. I love playing basketball. That’s what I want to do. My dad talked to me for a while about how he wanted me to get focused so I didn’t have to worry about catching up my senior year, so I can play in college. I wasn’t surprised.

“I was on a top freshman [basketball] list. I couldn’t go to any of the events the school had. That was kind of hard for me. I went to a couple of games. I was kind of embarrassed because they said they needed me. I was kind of mad at myself.”

Martin Jr. was enrolled in a home school called Fusion Academy in Los Angeles. Fusion is an accredited private high school and middle school that describes itself as a “revolutionary community of learning where positive relationships and one-to-one classroom unlock the academic potential in every student.”

Martin Sr. worried that his son might depart to go live with his mother after being punished. Martin Jr. instead accepted his sentence, saying it was “my mistake” and worked to get better. His grades and study habits improved dramatically as he earned all A’s his first semester at Fusion. He believes what he learned will make him a much better student going forward.

“I just learned that schoolwork was No. 1 over basketball,” Martin Jr. said. “I appreciate basketball more, but I was thinking, ‘If you want to play basketball, what do you have to do? Your schoolwork.’ You might as well just get it done with. I have a way different mentality now.”

The father and son also got closer through it all.

They watched a lot of basketball together with the elder passing on knowledge of the game. They worked out on the court, as well, with the youngster improving his post game and ballhandling. They also talked much more and directly.

“He’s on my back telling me what to do, but it’s to help me,” Martin Jr. said. “Our communication is better. He is always checking up on me. ‘Did you do this? Did you do that?’ It helps a lot. In case I forget, he tells me, ‘Did you do this?’ If I say I forgot, he says, ‘Well, you can do it right now since I reminded you.’ It helps a lot.”

Martin Sr. and his older sister were raised by a single mother in the underprivileged South Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas. His sister often watched him while their mom worked two jobs to make ends meet. After attending three high schools in four years and fighting a stuttering issue, Martin Sr. graduated as a high school basketball star at Dallas’ Bryan Adams High School.

Kenyon Martin #6 of the New Jeresy Nets talks to the press while his son, Kenyon Jr., plays with the microphone after Game four of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons during the 2003 NBA Playoffs at the Continental Airlines Arena on May 24, 2003 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Kenyon Martin #6 of the New Jeresy Nets talks to the press while his son, Kenyon Jr., plays with the microphone after Game four of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons during the 2003 NBA Playoffs at the Continental Airlines Arena on May 24, 2003 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Martin signed with the University of Cincinnati where he eventually became the 2000 Associated Press National Player of the Year and graduated, as well. The first overall pick in the 2000 NBA draft played in two NBA Finals and 757 NBA contests.

“I remember him playing hard and aggressive,” Martin Jr. said. “He played like it was his last game every game. I kind of look up to that. He told me that you can be cool off the court, but when you step over the line it is real serious business. I like how he plays superhard.”

Despite his NBA success, Martin Sr. has never forgotten his humble beginnings without a father and often reminds his son about that.

“I told him I’ve seen it all and did it all,” Martin Sr. said. “I didn’t have a father looking over my shoulder. Me and my friends were running around together trying to figure it out. None of us had a daddy, no father, no male figure in the house.

“It was the blind leading the blind, figuring it out on the fly. Anything he can think to do, I’ve done it.”

Martin Sr. considered keeping his son at Fusion to keep him on track academically. He eventually decided to send his son back to playing basketball playing for an AAU team called Impact Elite over the summer. Martin Sr. then enrolled him at Chaminade.

Martin Jr. is back playing basketball, starting on the varsity team as a 15-year-old 6-foot-6 sophomore. He was nervous and excited during his high school debut, scoring nine points against Los Angeles’ Moorpark High School on Nov. 21. He is doing well in the classroom now, too. Martin Jr. says he wants to keep improving his grades so it will never be in question by colleges that recruit him.

“He has a different attitude and mindset toward school now,” Martin Sr. said.

While last school year was painful for him, Martin Jr. feels that his dad’s action was a blessing for him in the long term.

“I’m very thankful for my dad,” Martin Jr. said. “If he didn’t do what he did before, I’d probably still be in the same position. I wouldn’t have learned anything from what I did before.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.