Lee: Kelan Martin is Butler’s very own defibrillator

Kelan Martin waves to the crowd. Martin is averaging 20.9 points per game, good for second in the Big East. Collegian file photo. 

DANA LEE | SPORTS EDITOR | delee1@butler.edu

Kelan Martin is the rarest kind of college basketball star. He’s a star too humble to admit it out loud. And please, don’t call him the heart of this Butler basketball team — the humility his parents instilled in him might protest.

At least, not until he can acknowledge the entire team — Tyler Wideman and Kamar Baldwin and Sean McDermott and wait — you don’t think Martin notices how freshman Aaron Thompson is always the first one on the court during shootarounds?

But the higher Martin’s name climbs on Butler’s all-time scoring list, the harder it is to keep the volume to a whisper. The senior forward is second in the Big East in points per game for crying out loud.  

Still, Martin is redirecting credit to his team and he’s moved on now from the starters to the bench — Paul Jorgensen and Henry Baddley and Nate Fowler and wait — someone stop this guy before he attempts to thank every fan who shook his hand after a game.

How do you write about a star who won’t admit he’s a star out loud? You give him a new definition, one that can somehow get at the heart of what Martin has done this season without actually calling him the heart of this team.

Because Kelan, maybe you’re too humble to let anyone call you the heart of this team, but you better believe you’re the closest thing this team has to an automated external defibrillator.

You know, the red box-shaped device designed to send an electric current to jumpstart your heart and save your life.

When Martin is the common factor in nearly every comeback win this season, comparing him to an AED is the best way to explain why Butler is a team few opponents want to play in March.

Just ask Ohio State what it was like playing Butler in November. One minute they were sitting comfortably with a 15-point lead, less than four minutes left in regulation time and then Kelan Martin happened.

“If you reflect back to the Ohio State game where it looked rough and kind of dead in the water, Kelan was just as calm as…” head coach LaVall Jordan paused.

How do you explain to the press how calm Martin was without making it seem like he didn’t care about winning? Like this: “He was a little more calm than I was.”

Calmer than the coach? Maybe that explains how Martin could plunge into the lane with the ball and manage to score game winners like the way he did against Ohio State.

The thing is, Martin hasn’t slowed down since November. If anything he’s only gotten better, and Jordan can’t help but name two or three more games when Kelan Martin revived the team out of a basketball coma.

Take the 91-89 double overtime win at Georgetown for example. It seems only fitting that after making up a 20-point deficit, it was Martin who tied the game at 89 points. Then, it was Martin who scored the game-winning shot with three seconds left.

That was Martin the AED —  leading the team huddles, playing through the next set, then scoring again.

“He just had this calmness about him that’s impacted and been contagious to the team,” Jordan said. “So, there’s never been a state of panic regardless of what the score was. He’s had the same demeanor when we’ve been up.”

Didn’t you see? Hate to break it to you now, but if you weren’t watching Butler play Creighton last Tuesday, then you missed your shot at seeing Martin play in Hinkle Fieldhouse for the last time.

Martin scored a game-high 26 points and, somewhere in between, he hit a three from the key to go 5-for-7 from beyond the arc. The fan standing in front of Dawg Pound started flexing because that’s exactly what Martin was doing. He was flexing and he just so happened to be doing it against last year’s Big East defensive player of the year in Khyri Thomas.

“I just made the game more simple,” Martin said after the game. “Not forcing anything. Just making good shots and finding my open teammates.”

He even managed to crack a smile during the press conference because someone asked him how good it felt to be able to score 26 points against someone like Thomas. Doesn’t the smile say it all?

Creighton head coach Greg McDermott was doing the only thing his team could do to contain Martin by putting the league’s best defender on him, but maybe McDermott didn’t get the memo. Martin can be dangerous even when he’s not scoring.

“He’s our emotional leader,” Jordan said after the game. “When you talk about how he’s grown, his maturity — he’s the guy that has poise and won’t get panicked. It’s win the possession, then move on to the next play.”

What kind of coach doesn’t want that?

“He’s been really patient,” Jordan said. “That is something that as a senior he’s developed by watching film with the coaches and just learning how to beat the scout. That’s been fun to watch.”

Fun to watch? Heck, fans have never seen an AED save anything other than a life, until Kelan Martin started saving basketball games.

It’s a shame we can’t hear Martin talking during the team huddles. But his teammates hear him. Jordan does too. It sounds a lot like a heartbeat.


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