For Hass: Rams' Run Fueled by Love, Respect for Martin

For Hass: Rams' Run Fueled by Love, Respect for Martin

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – There is an old adage in coaching: When your best player is your hardest worker, you have a chance to be special.

This year's Rhode Island team is special, and Hassan Martin is a major reason why. He is the emotional center for the Rams, the guy who leads by example, choosing to let his actions do the speaking for him.

But give his teammates and coaches the chance to speak about Martin, and the respect that is expressed is impossible to miss.

"That's my brother," said redshirt junior E.C. Matthews, who came to Kingston together with Martin four years ago. "When he has success, whether it is on the court or off the court, I feel like I'm having success too. That's how much I really care for him.

"He means a lot to this University and to this team. Without him, we would not be the team that we are now. We wouldn't be here. Hass means everything to me and everything to this team."

On the court, Martin is a force on both ends of the floor. Defensively, he is one of the nation's best shot-blockers. Offensively, he averages 14.1 points per game (second on the team) and is shooting a team-best 60.0 percent from the field.

But when his teammates speak about Martin, it's more about the man he is than the player.

"Hass isn't just a teammate. Since my visit, he's been a big brother to me," junior Jarvis Garrett said. "He welcomed me with open arms. Even though he's younger than me, I call him my little big brother. I look up to him.

"He is someone you can always go to when you need to talk. Throughout this year – his senior season – I promised him we were going to get him an A-10 championship, and that's what we did. Now that we are here in the NCAA Tournament, I told him we are going to get him as far as possible. I love Hass. I love him to death."

The words spoken about Martin come without any hint of hyperbole. There is a change in each teammate's eyes when the topic of conversation turns to the Staten Island native.

"He is just a leader," Matthews said. "He is somebody you can really look up to. He should be the example of what everyone wants their career to be like. He's a great person off the court. I can go on and on about Hassy."

And it doesn't take long for teammates to develop such respect for Martin. The first impression he makes is just as powerful as any of the thunderous dunks he has thrown down in the Ryan Center over the years.

"The first time I met him was on my visit to the school," freshman forward Cyril Langevine said. "We were about the same size, but he just seemed bigger. I was like, 'Alright, this is the guy.' You just see how much he cares about this team, this program. He's a leader to me and to the rest of the guys.

"Since the day I committed here, he's been like a big brother to me. I'm just trying to follow in his footsteps. Obviously, he's a hell of a player, and with him being a senior, he's going to leave behind some huge shoes to fill."

Martin commands respect from those around him through his work ethic. Assistant coach Jim Carr is in his fifth season with the Rams, and he has worked closely with the post players throughout Martin's time in Rhode Island. 

"He exemplifies hard work, toughness," Carr said. "He shows up every day and just does his job. He is always prepared. He's got all the good qualities for everything we look for in a player. He has the qualities you look to build a team around."

Martin was, in fact, one of the first building blocks for head coach Dan Hurley. Martin and Matthews came in four years ago as highly-touted freshmen who would help turn the program around. When it came time for Senior Night in the final home game of the season, Matthews was noticeably emotional when it came time to honor Martin.

"We came in together, and because things happened the way they did, knowing that I wasn't going to be able to play another home game with him, it hit me in that moment," Matthews said. "I didn't want to believe it, and I didn't want to really tear up because we had work to do. We had a game and we had to really be focused so we could get it done for him."

The team did get it done, on Senior Night and every game since. Those seeds planted years ago are coming to fruition now, as Rhode Island finds itself in the Round of 32, winners of nine straight games and 40 minutes away from a possible trip to the Sweet 16. For Martin there have been bumps in the road. Injuries have caused him to miss time each of the last two seasons, but he always fights back.

"We know how hard he works," said junior Jared Terrell. "I see how much he's dedicated himself to this program, how much he has sacrificed. I know how much he's suffered during his time here, and I want to make the most of this time here for him. I know how much he deserves it. He puts everything he has into this program. He deserves this."

But what exactly is it that elevates Martin in the eyes of everyone involved with Rhode Island basketball?

"I think there are two parts to it," Carr said. "The first part is his personality. He has different relationships with all of the guys on the team, but he is everybody's big brother. He looks out for guys on and off the court. He's not really a vocal leader, but he very quietly gets the guys at the right time to do the right things.

"The other part is the injuries he has worked through. For him to bounce back as well as he has from two very tough, tough injuries, it makes you not want to take a day off. It makes you not want to even take a play off."

For four years, Martin has given everything he has to Rhode Island. Sunday he will take the court alongside his teammates, each of whom will give everything they have to extend the season and extend their time alongside their big brother.

"Your character is your destiny," Carr said "And Hassan Martin has great character."