Basketball has been Will Martin’s passion his whole life.
“I remember there’s a picture my mom had from when I was two years old, and it’s me laying on top of this portable basketball goal,” Martin said. “From my very first memories, I’ve just had an affinity for the game.”
Now 32, Martin is taking over as head coach of the men’s basketball team.
Martin’s basketball journey started at a young age.
“I played as soon as I could start dribbling,” Martin said. “Since I could walk and talk, I had a basketball in my hand and I was playing.”
His chances of getting recruited to play college basketball took a hit his senior year. That year, Martin tore every ligament in his left ankle. Despite this injury, he double taped his ankle and played through it, wearing a boot anytime he wasn’t on the court. His doctors told him it was the worst tear they’d ever seen, and that he would’ve been better off if he’d broken it in half.
This injury put his future in perspective. He’d planned to play basketball as long as he could, but now he had a decision to make.
“That really humbled me, going through that injury,” Martin said. “I had some really wise mentors sit me down. They said ‘Look, you could go play at a small college, and be done in four years. Or you could start your coaching career for the rest of your life.’”
Martin would end up choosing the latter option, a move he is very happy he went with. Every decision Martin made is what led to him earning his first head coaching position at Missouri Western.
After fighting through injury his senior year, his basketball journey took him to Lexington, Kentucky, where he became a student assistant for the University of Kentucky Men’s Basketball Team. This introduced him to his first of many high-profile mentors in his career: John Calipari.
The three time Naismith Coach of the Year taught Martin how to be a good coach and a better man.
“A lot of who I am as a person and a coach comes from him,” Martin said. “He taught me that this thing is so much bigger than basketball. He taught me what true servant leadership looked like.”
While he was at Kentucky, Martin joined the Wildcats for a pair of Final Four appearances. In 2012, he cut down the nets as Kentucky bested Kansas to win the National Championship; a moment Martin described as “surreal”. While he was there, he forged a close friendship with NBA Champion Anthony Davis, serving as his trainer in New Orleans.
Once leaving Kentucky, Martin’s journey headed west, this time stopping at the University of Tulsa in 2013 as a graduate assistant. At Tulsa, he assisted two more high profile coaches. Former first overall pick Danny Manning was followed by Frank Haith in 2014.
Despite only being there for two years, Martin says he was heavily influenced by both coaches.
“It really allowed for me to be more diverse in the way I built this program,” Martin said. “It helped me be a lot more organized in everything that I do.”
His time at Tulsa was followed by a position at the University of San Francisco under head coach Rex Walters. This was the first time he was ever fired from a program, as the staff was let go after his first season. Martin says that getting fired really humbled him.
“I learned after we got fired in San Francisco that you have to be present in the now,” Martin said. “What I learned after getting fired and humbled is I can never look too far ahead.”
Having learned this lesson, his journey led him to St. Joseph, Missouri. He was brought in as assistant coach for the Missouri Western men’s basketball team under Wicks. After two years, Wicks went home, taking an assistant’s role at Wyoming. After a brief search for a replacement, Martin got the call. He was going to be the head coach for the Griffons.
Martin says this position was something he always wanted, but he couldn’t let that overshadow the task at hand.
“If all I thought about was being a head coach, I wouldn’t have been a really, really good assistant,” Martin said. “I go back again to getting fired, you learn, you have to be the very best that you can be in the role that you have.”
Now Martin is his own boss. He is responsible for all the offensive and defensive tactics, as well as recruiting, for the first time. Fortunately, he picked up some pointers serving under Calipari, Manning, Haith and Walters.
“I am a product of everyone who has invested in me first,” Martin said. “What’s awesome for our guys is that they get a taste of all those great giants of this game.”
Now that Martin has climbed the mountain to becoming head coach, his search to continue learning and improving hasn’t gone away. Off the court, Martin is an avid reader.
“I’m deep into philosophy and psychology,” Martin said. “I learn how important it is to open your mind to things that maybe you’re not used to.”
Time will tell if this new found information will pay off. Martin’s next chapter will start on Nov. 19, as the Griffons open their season at Rogers State.