Kelan Martin and Tyler Wideman share a moment during a game. The two seniors have only two home games remaining in their Butler careers. Photo courtesy of Jimmy Lafakis.
JIMMY LAFAKIS | STAFF REPORTER | firstname.lastname@example.org
You’re one of just two seniors on the Butler University men’s basketball team. You’re in the thick of conference play, your team has defied experts’ expectations all season and you live with your best friend. He’s a senior, too.
What’s your game plan for your last few months as a Bulldog? Keep things as light as possible.
On the rare chance their talks turn serious, only one topic is discussed. And even that subject involves a game. Not basketball, but a video game.
“We either talk about Fortnite or nothing at all,” Martin said.
Off the court, the guys can’t go a minute without laughing about something. Who knows the subject of their snickering? Only them.
“That’s how I grew up, just joking,” Martin said. “Me and my family, we’re all jokers. That’s all I did in high school. That’s all we do.”
Wideman didn’t miss a beat, jumping in to imitate his friend.
“Yeah, that’s what we did at Ballard,” Wideman said, referring to Martin’s high school in Louisville. “We did that all the time.”
Wideman hails from Indiana, Martin from Kentucky. And when their AAU teams faced off, it was Martin who walked away with the win. However, Wideman gained an edge their senior year during the annual Indiana-Kentucky All-Star Games in 2014.
“It was for bragging rights,” Wideman said. “We all knew who was going to win before the games even started.”
Indiana won both games, with Wideman scoring 15 points and grabbing 18 rebounds in one. By this point, both players had committed to Butler and knew they would be roommates. Still, they didn’t know each other outside of being competitors on the court. That would all change, as they would room together for most of their college careers.
“When I think of Kelan,” Wideman said, “I think of my roommate, my brother and my dog.”
Not as in the Butler Bulldog mascot or as in the dog that lived with them over the summer, but as in dog — you’re my best friend. Ironically, Wideman’s nickname is Big Cat. If anything, Martin and Wideman show that cats and dogs can get along.
“When I think of Big Cat,” Martin said, “That’s just my guy.”
Davis Furman, a senior men’s basketball manager, embraced the journey with Wideman and Martin when they were freshmen in Ross Hall.
“I remember Kelan hanging out in his room for a whole semester and being pretty shy,” Furman said. “Big Cat was always in everybody’s room first semester.”
Furman lives with the pair now, and said he will always remember listening to R&B artist Bryson Tiller and playing NCAA Football video games with Martin.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard a serious conversation between these two,” Furman said.
The same could be said about Wideman’s music collaborations with freshman team manager Noah Weiss. Watch out, Billboard Top 100. Wideman and Weiss are coming out with record-breaking tracks.
The duo first collaborated during a road trip to Marquette University. Before Wideman scored a career-high 23 points, he produced beats for the manager known as “Big Smooch” on GarageBand.
Have a night, Big Man. Have a night. pic.twitter.com/e5JXqONPgc
— Butler Basketball (@ButlerMBB) February 1, 2018
“Tyler played me a beat and I ended up rapping a pretty good verse,” Weiss said. “I talk about money, cars and the ladies.”
The verses have caught on in the locker room. From time to time, Wideman will play a beat and Weiss will “go in” on it, freestyling on the track.
“We get in the studio sometimes,” Wideman said.
On the court though, a metamorphosis occurs. Wideman and Martin mold into different beasts, their playfulness tossed out Hinkle’s hallowed windows.
“Kelan has been a real leader emotionally,” Fox Sports broadcaster Tim Brando said in a phone interview. “He’s come a long way in understanding the Butler Way. For them to be great, he’s got to score.”
As of last night, Martin leads the Big East in points per game for conference play and owns the No. 5 spot on Butler’s all-time scoring list.
Wideman meanwhile has quietly established himself a force around the basket, only missing one game in his Butler career after his wisdom teeth were removed. He is shooting 69 percent from the field in conference play, which leads the Big East.
“He’s always been a stabilizer,” Brando said. “He’s a guy you can count on to do the grunt work inside. They are both outstanding and impactful on the court and just as gentlemanly off of it.”
Both players lead by example, but as the only two seniors on the team, they’ve taken on more vocal roles. In games, Wideman often pulls the team together for huddles during breaks in the action. Martin has made it a point to mentor the freshmen Bulldogs on and off the floor.
“Being around these guys on a basketball court is a blessing,” redshirt sophomore guard Sean McDermott said. “They set the tone for our team. We see how hard these two guys work and it pushes us to work just as hard. We want to see those two go out on top.”
In a five-year period noted for Butler’s coaching turnover, Martin and Wideman have been the program’s most consistent pieces. Both were initially recruited by Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, and when Wideman signed, he became Brandon Miller’s first official recruit. When Miller left, they played under former Butler head coach Chris Holtmann for three years.
“They are high-level people,” Holtmann, now the Ohio State University head coach, said in a phone interview. “They come from high-level families. They are guys who care about all the right stuff, and I think they are winners.”
When Butler trailed 66-65 in their final game of the PK80 tournament, it was Martin who made the eventual game-winning layup in overtime against Ohio State. And his former coach.
— Roundball Daily (@RoundballDaily) November 26, 2017
“I think Kelan is the best player in the Big East,” Holtmann said. “His senior year, he’s proven that.”
During the first half of Butler’s game last Saturday against Villanova University, Martin shot 5-6 from three-point range to the tune of 17 points. Villanova coach Jay Wright, facing a three-point deficit, joined sideline reporter Lisa Byington for a halftime interview.
“We’ve got to get LeBron James to come in and guard him,” Wright said at the time.
“We’ve gotta get LeBron James to come guard him.”@VUCoachJWright on stopping Kelan Martin in the second half.
— #BIGEASThoops (@BIGEASTMBB) February 10, 2018
Even if LeBron James matched up against Martin, teams would still have to deal with Wideman throwing his weight around inside.
“The common fan forgets how good Tyler is,” Holtmann said. “He embodies what you want in your teammate.”
Their time as Bulldogs is winding down, and only two home games remain. Who knows what comes after that. For Martin and Wideman, hopefully one last dance in March.
Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JJLII30