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Kemery Martin: The Story Of Utah Basketball’s Hometown Hero

Kemery Martin #15 of the Utah Utes brings the ball up the court against the Oregon Ducks during the Pac-12 Conference women’s basketball tournament quarterfinals at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on March 6, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Ducks defeated the Utes 79-59. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The road from top high school player to hometown hero as a recruit to a rising star for Utah basketball has been a different path for Kemery Martin.

It wasn’t the typical route for Martin but one that she didn’t regret taking and is excited for her future as a college basketball player. Now, she has made the biggest strides from freshman to sophomore year as a Ute.

Seeing the top prospect in the state stay home and play for one of the local universities is rare these days. Martin is proud of being a “hometown hero” and hopes to be the example for future in-state high school stars that it’s okay to stay home.

Where The Love Of The Game Of Basketball Came From For Kemery Martin

Martin developed her love for the game of basketball at a young age as a participant in Junior Jazz.

“It was about third grade, I started in Junior Jazz,” Martin told KSL Sports. “It was a mixture of boys and girls, but I was one of the taller ones out there. Once I started playing that, it was fun and natural to me. So I wanted to keep going. That’s where it took off. My dad played basketball as well, so he’s helped me through my journey. He was my first coach and got me going.”

A couple of years later, Martin and her family believed she had a chance to play college basketball.

“My dad talked to me about that,” Martin stated. “I think it was around sixth or seventh grade, is when we kind of sat down and said, ‘college basketball would be an awesome opportunity to be able to get a scholarship and play.'”

From that point, Martin continued to progress in her career, playing in competitive leagues and eventually being the star guard for Corner Canyon High School in Draper, Utah. She became the No. 1 recruit in the state of Utah in her class. The awards piled in as she was named Utah’s Gatorade Player of the Year and Deseret News’ Ms. Basketball.

Why Did She Choose Utah?

Martin became connected to the Utes’ program when Lynne Roberts went to Arizona on her first recruiting trip as Utah’s head coach. She went to watch a different player on the same team as Martin in their competitive league team. The head coach of that team was Kemery’s father, who told Roberts she should check out Kemery.

“I got the job and then the first July we went out during our big evaluation period,” Roberts told KSL Sports. “I had called him (Kemery’s father) about another player that I had heard was good. I didn’t even know who Kemery was. But I called this club coach because of a player that was playing. So, he said, ‘You should check out my daughter.’ I thought, ‘Uh huh.’ That’s what all fathers say. He’s like, ‘just check her out.’ She just graduated eighth grade and I walked in the gym, I remember I was down in Phoenix, and I watched about two minutes of warm ups. I thought, ‘okay, yeah, I see your kid. She’s gonna be legit.’ So we started recruiting her from that moment on.”

The Draper, Utah native went on to receive scholarship offers from every Pac-12 women’s basketball program. The conference is considered to be the most competitive in women’s college basketball. With the powerhouses of Stanford, UCLA and others, Martin had her choice of going anywhere on the west coast. She decided to stay in the Beehive state and be the “Hometown Hero.”

“They were one of the programs that offered me my freshman year,” said Martin. “Obviously, being in-state as well, I was able to go to an unofficial visits and the Utah coaches were super consistent with me. Coach Rob (Roberts) was always calling me when she was allowed to. It was just all that consistency with them in their recruitment. Then just being close to home, and I was able to go up on unofficial’s and see the campus and meet the girls and just see how they do it. I think from early on, just to get used to the program, comfortable with them, it’s kind of what stood out to me. Also just talking to coach, I’ve known her for like, five years, six years now. She’s been honest with me, and where her vision of where she wants this program to go, I jumped on board. I thought it would be cool to do.”

Roberts’ vision for the program has always been to do things that Utah Women’s Basketball has never done before.

While Martin was deciding where to continue her academic and athletic career, Roberts had many sleepless nights.

“It was competitive, man, I’ll tell you what,” Roberts stated. “It came down to just the relationship building and I did not want her to be able to look at me and tell me no. Using every contact we could that we’re allowed. We just made it a point anytime we can get her on campus, we’d invite her on campus and there’s no limit to how many times the kid wants to come so, it was just selling her on the vision of being a hometown hero and leaving a legacy here. People are gonna love it. You have the ability, so don’t go somewhere else where you’re not known. So we sold her on that. Really, it came down to the connection. We have a really good bond that was created in the recruiting process. But I’ll tell you what, man, there was some sleepless nights when it came down to decision time. I was sweating it, but it was exciting when she actually surprised us with it. So that was fun.”

How Kemery Martin Told Utah She Was Committed To Program

In today’s day and age of college recruiting, prospects usually announce their verbal commitments on social media. That wasn’t what Martin did.

“I wanted to do it in person just because they’re here,” Martin mentioned. “I actually created this puzzle and cut it up. I brought it up (to the coaches). I was just like, ‘Hey, I have something for you guys.’ So I gave it to them, but I kept the last piece which had the answer. I think the puzzle said something like, ‘Is it gonna be you?’ So they put it together. Then that last piece was missing. So I walked in, and I gave it to them.”

That was a special moment for Roberts and her coaching staff. To be able to keep the best player in the state at home is hard to do in college athletics.

“We knew that Kemery was close to making a decision – but we didn’t know how long she was going to take so we were just waiting… on pins and needles,” Roberts said. “She surprised us at the office one day and had made a puzzle with pieces spelling out that she was going to be a Ute. It was a really fun moment when I put that final piece in and was able to read out her decision about being a Ute. I don’t remember a lot of details in that moment other than I went bananas and started running around the office like we just won the Super Bowl. I still have the puzzle.”

No Sophomore Slump For Martin

Freshman year for Martin was a struggle. She admitted it as did coach Roberts. That’s not uncommon. It’s also not uncommon for a second-year student-athlete to go through a sophomore slump. Martin made sure she wasn’t going to go through that.

As a freshman during the 2019-20 season, Martin played in 31 games with nine starts. She averaged 4.3 points, 1.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists in 13.9 minutes per game. This season, Martin played in all 20 games in the regular season with 16 starts. Her averages increased to 11 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 27.1 minutes per contest. Her performance this season earned her All-Pac-12 honorable mention.

When asked about the struggles as a freshman, Martin admitted that she got caught up with the high expectations that was placed on her coming out of high school.

“One of my mindsets that was key for me was just being true to myself instead of having to please others,” Martin said. “There’s a lot of noise around, there’s a lot of people talking about all the awards, so I had pretty high expectations. I got caught up in a little bit of that and the pressure a little bit too, as well. But halfway through the season, I just had to step back and remind myself that I’m a good basketball player. I came here for a reason. So it was a rough year, but honestly, it was probably great for me to go through that, I learned so much from it. I’ve made the transition from last year to this year. Last year helped me know what I had to do to become great and succeed at this level.”

The way Martin made sure she wouldn’t encounter a sophomore slump was by putting in the work during the off-season.

“A lot of it was the offseason was my main focus of, ‘okay, you’re going to get stronger, you’re going get back to playing how you play.’ It’s also a lot of just not letting the outside noise get to me,” stated Martin. “I think this year, it was a lot of focus on a lot of different things and a lot of that focus wasn’t necessarily on me, it was more so of how can I help the team more. What does the team need that I can do and bring to the table and becoming a leader as well. Stepping up and filling that role comes responsibilities. Then just getting comfortable with where I am, but also knowing that I still need to work. That Arizona State game, after the game was like, ‘that was fun.’ I had no pressure, I was feeling good. Just let it fly. That game did help me boost my confidence.”

Martin had a career-high 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting from the field and a perfect 5-for-5 from the three-point line in Utah’s 65-51 win in Tempe over Arizona State on January 24.

Roberts had an idea that Martin would struggle as a freshman but is proud of the way she bounced back in her second year considers her a rising star at Utah.

“I think sometimes the struggle leads to that,” Roberts said. “Her freshman year was not easy. She came in from Utah high school girls basketball where she was so used to being the best player by far to where she could give a six out of 10 effort and score 35. That was my concern with her coming in. This kid has all the triggers and all the potential, but she doesn’t know what this level takes in terms of intensity both mentally and physically. That first year, she got hit with it. I think the time away was good. She was kind of burned out a little bit. She’s gotten a lot stronger, like weight-room strength, and that’s helped her and then she’s got her swagger back. I think the struggle has made her realize where she needed to improve. She’s a superstar, she really is and it’s fun to see her coming into her own.”

On top of her progression with her skillset on the floor, one of the things Roberts pointed out about the growth of Martin is her leadership and being a vocal leader on the team.

“What you don’t see is her leadership,” Roberts stated. “She was as quiet as a church mouse last year, never said a word. I was always kind of on her. Now she’s probably the most vocal on the team, which, as a coach, that’s when you think, ‘Okay, this kid really is special.’ She’s not hiding anymore and she’s figuring it out. I’m so excited about her future.”

Being a point guard, it is almost a requirement to have a vocal leadership role on the floor. Martin has done that throughout her career leading up to Utah but needed to get comfortable with the adjustment from high school to college before taking the leadership role.

“Back in high school and growing up, I’ve always been that leader. I think once I hit college, it was kind of like that, ‘Whoa, okay, let me get my feet on the ground,'” Martin mentioned. “At the end of the day, I know that I can be a leader and I know that I need to be a leader on this team. So just from the the growth that I made, the confidence that I’ve built, I think that’s helped me to be able to be comfortable in that leadership position.”

One thing that can be agreed upon all around is that if Martin stays healthy, she could have one of the better careers in Utah women’s basketball history.

Trevor Allen is a Utah Utes Insider for KSLSports.com and host of the Crimson Corner podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorASportsYou can download and listen to the podcast, here.

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