BOZICH | Ballard's Kelan Martin -- 3-star recruit, 5-star player - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Ballard's Kelan Martin -- 3-star recruit, 5-star player for Butler

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Butler's Kelan Martin (30) blocked a shot by Indiana's James Blackmon Saturday. (Jamie Owens photo) Butler's Kelan Martin (30) blocked a shot by Indiana's James Blackmon Saturday. (Jamie Owens photo)
Former Ballard star Kelan Martin had 28 points as Butler beat Indiana Saturday. Former Ballard star Kelan Martin had 28 points as Butler beat Indiana Saturday.

INDIANAPOLIS (WDRB) — Eight minutes into Butler’s game with Indiana Saturday, former Ballard High School star Kelan Martin had nothing.

And I absolutely mean N-O-T-H-I-N-G.

No points. No shots. Nothing to excite the 19 NBA scouts who gathered to watch the Bulldogs play Indiana in the Crossroads Classic.

Butler Blue, the Bulldogs’ breathing, barking mascot, had a more significant impact on the game.

Butler coach Chris Holtmann summoned Martin to the bench during a timeout. Before he left the floor, Martin looked for official John Gaffney. He had something to say — and I don’t believe it was about the freezing rain expected in Indianapolis Saturday night.

By game’s end everybody was talking about Martin — and most of them were prepared to argue that he is one of the best players in the Big East. 

Or more.

Include Indiana coach Tom Crean in the Or More group. The Bulldogs handled the Hoosiers, 83-78, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Credit Martin.

He punished the ninth-ranked Hoosiers with 28 points, scoring the final nine of the first half as the Bulldogs spurted to a 42-28 halftime lead. It was a critical cushion, one that helped carry Butler to the finish after IU cut the Butler lead to 79-77 in the final 30 seconds.

Martin made five of nine shots from distance.

“He started making shots that were bombs,” Crean said.

Martin did more than that. He also made all five of his free throws. Mid-range game? He’s got that, too. The box score also credits him with a steal. It does not credit Martin with an assist, although the photo with this story suggests otherwise. Martin looked precisely like the guy who leads Butler in scoring at nearly 18 points per game.

Terrific player. Fearless player. Overlooked player, at least nationally. And against Indiana, Martin was also a patient player, refusing to rush or take contested shots. Remember, I said Martin did not attempt a shot in the first eight minutes.

“His patience was critical,” Holtmann said. “It’s a real, I think, sign of growth. Hopefully, right?”

“I was seeing how they were playing me,” Martin said. “They were denying me the whole game, but Coach just told me to start having lead cuts to get open.

“I started getting confidence in myself offensively and that’s what got us started.”

Martin grew up a Louisville fan. He said the Cardinals made zero phone calls trying to recruit him. Neither did Kentucky. Indiana made one inquiry, even though Crean knew Martin’s mother from Western Kentucky University, where she played for the Hilltoppers.

“I didn’t ask (why there was no interest from U of L, UK or IU),” he said. “I just went with the flow. I don’t even know how many stars (he earned as a recruit). I wasn’t worried about stars. I was just worried about getting a great opportunity.”

Martin does not shake his head at those programs. He shakes his head at himself.

“I didn’t start pushing myself until my senior year and I saw the results coming out,” he said “I kept getting better.” 

Perturbed? Not one bit.

“I wouldn't say they missed on me,” Martin said. “Coaches did what they had to do. I still watch Louisville every chance I get. I’m good friends with Donovan (Mitchell) and Deng (Adel).”

Of course, Martin is best friends with U of L point guard Quentin Snider. Not only did they play together at Ballard. They started playing together when they were 9.

Now Martin's Bulldogs look like the best team in the Big East not named Villanova — and Butler plays the defending national champions in Hinkle Fieldhouse on Jan. 4.

Consider this statistic: Two college basketball teams have earned three victories against Top 25 opposition this season. One is Baylor, which is ranked sixth.

The other? 

You guessed it -- Butler, which has also dispatched Arizona and Cincinnati. Add victories against Utah (road), Northwestern and Vanderbilt, and Butler might not be back in the same neighborhood they were in when Brad Stevens directed the program to back to back Final Fours in 2010 and 2011.

But they’re in the same Zip Code.

Does Butler belong in the Top 10? The only reason Butler is not ranked higher than 18th was a bizarre one-point loss at Indiana State 10 days ago.

“We wouldn’t mind being ranked (higher),” Martin said. “We like where we’re at. We’ll keep working every day. That’s just what we do. Work.”

The Hoosiers (8-2) continued their strange season. Their wins against Kansas and North Carolina would be credentials for a solid NCAA Tournament seed, but the Hoosiers have also lost to Fort Wayne and Butler.

Crean said that he was disappointed that nobody on his roster demanded the opportunity to challenge Martin.

“We never got him off,” Crean said. “He’s a straight line driver. We wanted him to change direction. We didn’t get that. We wanted to bring him into some traps. We didn’t get that.”

Butler did what Butler does. Grind to the final seconds of every offensive possession. Shut down driving lanes. Limit turnovers. Make threes.

Need numbers? Butler only threw the ball away six times, three in each half. They scorched Indiana from the perimeter, making 10 of 21 shots from distance. Indiana made nearly 50 percent of its shots in IU’s first nine games. The Hoosiers shot 44.1 percent against Butler.

Blend in Indiana’s complete inability to make three-point shots in the first half and the Hoosiers had major issues. Seven IU players attempted eight shots from distance in the first 20 minutes. Nobody made one.

Not James Blackmon Jr. Not Robert Johnson. Not Thomas Bryant.

Maybe it was Butler’s defense. Maybe it just one of those shooting nights for Indiana, which finished 6 of 21 from distance. In the end, the Hoosiers made only one more shot from distance than Martin.

“We came out and fought today,” Martin said.

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