There’s a talent pipeline being formed between Williamson County and Saint Joseph, Mo., and Will Martin is the reason why.
Martin, a Franklin native and Battle Ground Academy graduate, was named the head coach of the Missouri Western men’s basketball program this spring, and he plans on bringing as many WillCo kids along with him as he can.
“I said from the beginning that I wanted to start a trend and I wanted as many Middle Tennessee guys as I can get,” Martin said. “I'm from Middle Tennessee. It's in my blood. It'll always be in my blood. And a lot of who I am as an individual, as a coach, as a person comes from where I'm from.”
Middle Tennessee, long considered a hotbed of talent for women’s basketball, has started to see the men’s game catch up on the national stage over the last decade. And Martin thinks this is just the beginning.
“I think there's some untapped potential in Middle Tennessee and it’s starting to get more exposure as people are starting to see how Nashville's booming,” Martin said. “I believe that there's been untapped potential in Franklin, in Murfreesboro and all over Middle Tennessee, for the past decade that has kind of gone unnoticed.
"I think that, here at Missouri Western, we do things at a top-notch level. So to be able to give those guys that type of exposure on that platform, it's my way of giving back.”
During the past two seasons that Martin has been an assistant under Sundance Wicks (now himself an assistant at Wyoming) at Missouri Western, the Griffons have tripled their win total. And wins don’t come easy in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA), which Martin is not afraid to go on record claiming as the “toughest in DII, and I don't mind putting that out on blast and saying it.”
Northwest Missouri State, winners of two of the last three national titles and six consecutive conference crowns, is the current king of the MIAA, but the competition runs deep. Three MIAA schools were set to appear in this year’s NCAA DII Tournament, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think that the top two-to-three teams in this league can compete in low-major to mid-major basketball conferences,” Martin said. “It's a tough league night in and night out. There's no game that you can look at on your schedule and circle as a win, especially on the road. We embrace that, and we're going to talk a lot in this program about embracing everything - the good, the bad, the hard - and being able to go in week in and week out preparing for the top teams in the country. It's going to build character in all of our guys.”
Martin wasn’t the only Franklin native involved in the Griffons turnaround these past two seasons. Former Franklin High School Reese Glover shot a blazing 42 percent from three-point range and averaged 10.1 points per game last season as a freshman. Before he joined the Lee University staff this offseason, former BGA and Lipscomb star Nate Moran was on staff as a graduate assistant at Missouri Western.
And the pipeline doesn’t end there. Martin didn’t want to give away any of his recruiting secrets, but he says to expect a few more WillCo products joining the fold in Saint Joseph in 2021 and 2022.
Any players heading to Missouri will be joining a deep roster. The Griffons return five of their top six scorers from the 2019-20 season including All-MIAA point guard Tyreee Carroll and MIAA Freshman of the Year Will Eames.
“I love the roster,” Martin said. “That was priority number one for me when I got the job - retaining all of our guys, which we've been able to do. Those guys are the reason why we've had success. Players win games, not coaches, and during my interview process I told the administration that the best way for us to move forward and to keep the train rolling is to retain all of our guys because they're the ones who built this.”
Martin’s goal with the roster and the program in general is not just to prepare the players for their basketball careers, it’s to prepare them for a successful life.
“The hope of our program is not the fruits of their labor while they're here, but when they leave here,” Martin said. “Being able to play against the top players and the top coaches and top teams in the country and mentally, psychologically, and physically preparing for that is going to prepare them for the next 40 years of their life.
“The success of this program is not going to be based on wins and losses or championship banners. It's going to be based on where our guys end up 10 years from now, 20 years from now, and the type of fathers they're going to be and the type of employees or employers that they're going to become.”
And as much as Martin is going to lead his players for their futures off-the-court, his on-court resume is filled with basketball royalty who have guided him in a similar fashion.
As an undergraduate at Kentucky, he was the basketball team’s manager under head coach John Calipari, including a stint as head manager during the Wildcats 2012 national championship season.
While earning a graduate degree at Tulsa, Martin served as a graduate assistant and video coordinator for former NBA player and Kansas Jayhawk legend Danny Manning and 2012 National Coach of the Year Frank Haith.
Most recently, Martin was the director of basketball operations under former NBA player Rex Walters at the University of San Francisco.
“We're all products of people who've invested in us, and I've had some giants in this game invest in me,” Martin said. “I've been extremely blessed because of that. So, when you look at Coach Cal and Danny Manning and Frank Haith and Rex Walters, a little bit of who I am and how I coach is a part of what I learned from them.
"A little bit of each one of those guys, their philosophy, their offensive principles, defensive principles, the way that they built their culture, the way that they recruited, a little bit of that will always remain in me because those are the ones who invested in me first.”
Each of those coaches formed a piece of Martin’s own coaching style, which is something that he can now pass along to all of his players.
“I'm going to stay true to who I am, but who I am is in large part because of those people," he said. "It's going to be fun and exciting for our guys because that gives them such a wide variety of some of the greatest coaches and different types of perspectives. You don't have to work under someone or play under someone in order to learn from them.
"If you have a connection, and I learn from you, now that person is part of my web also. Every kid that plays for me is getting a little bit of John Calipari and they're getting a little bit of Danny Manning, and that's exciting.”