Highly recruited freshman Ian Martinez starting to make an impact for struggling Utah basketball team
The fourth-most highly rated high school player to ever sign with Utah, Martinez got off to a slow start but had his best game as a Ute against USC
Lost in the disappointment of last weekend’s losses at UCLA and USC for the University of Utah men’s basketball team is the continued rise of freshman guard Ian Martinez.
After playing just 24 combined minutes and going scoreless in his first three games at the U., Martinez was not having the role many predicted he would have after coming to Salt Lake City as a four-star recruit out of JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, California, by way of Heredia, Costa Rica.
Since then, however, the 6-foot-3, highly athletic Martinez has started to live up to the billing. He turned in his best game as a Ute in Saturday’s 64-46 loss to USC, going 3 of 7 from the field for a season-high 10 points in a season-high 17 minutes. Martinez was aggressive on both ends of the floor, attacked USC’s defense when other Utes weren’t willing to, and showed he’s going to be needed moving forward.
“Consistency is a big part of this game for young players. It is not about dazzling anybody over a 40-minute period, but it is about coming in every week and really grinding and continuing to get better.” — Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak
“I am just trying to keep adjusting to this level, and there are a lot of new experiences, which I am really excited about,” Martinez said after leading the otherwise punchless Utes in scoring at the Galen Center that day. “I am just (concerned with) getting better and being able to contribute to the team and play my role as well as I can. I think it is getting a lot better.”
The Utes (4-3, 1-2 Pac-12) play host to Oregon State at 9 p.m. Wednesday night at the Huntsman Center hoping to snap their two-game losing skid. The Beavers (5-4, 1-2) lost to Stanford 81-71 Monday afternoon in Corvallis and will be playing their third game in five days.
Martinez attributed his breakout game to his coaches’ confidence in him, and the energy the bench players provided.
“We got running on offense, and that got us going,” he said. “I think that’s our strength, starting on the defensive side (forcing turnovers).”
Coach Larry Krystkowiak said Martinez “continues to play with a lot of energy” and brings some much-needed athleticism to the roster.
“Ian is a guy who (defensively) can pick the ball up three-quarter court and make a guy work, which is going to be helpful for us,” Krystkowiak said. “He is doing nothing in my opinion but getting better week by week.”
Martinez’s first field goal as a Ute came in the fourth game, against UVU, and was a pretty baseline jumper that illustrated his silky moves and touch. He played 15 minutes in the blowout of Idaho, then just eight in the 72-70 loss to UCLA before shining against the Trojans.
After the UVU game, Krystkowiak said Martinez was going through a steep learning curve and expected him to adjust accordingly. He has.
“There’s just been an awful lot of new for Ian — defensive concepts, getting our offense down, finding a little bit of comfort within the system,” Krystkowiak said.
Asked Monday in a Zoom meeting with reporters if Martinez will play more moving forward, Krystkowiak said it all depends on how he practices.
“Consistency is a big part of this game for young players,” he said. “It is not about dazzling anybody over a 40-minute period, but it is about coming in every week and really grinding and continuing to get better. … I may very well switch up the lineup. We are going to start rewarding some guys who played well in practice.”
Expectations at Utah have been high for Martinez because he is the fourth-highest rated recruit in school history. He was once ranked as the No. 61 prospect from the Class of 2020 by the 247sports composite and the 18th best shooting guard in the land by the same recruiting website.
“I am happy for Ian,” Krystkowiak said Monday. “I am glad he got going a little bit. We are going to need him. We are going to need a lot of guys.”
The son of Utes assistant Henry Martinez, Ian Martinez chose Utah over offers from Arizona, Ole Miss, USC and others, committing on May 29, 2019.
“He’s an elite athlete that we haven’t had in these parts,” Krystkowiak said. “But I think he’s settling into a groove a little bit and getting more and more comfortable, and I would say from being around him, that is happening. It is not happening super fast, it is taking a little bit of time. But he’s got the presence of mind to just stay in it and he brings it every day. He wants to learn.”
And live up to his billing.