The mornings are the biggest struggle for Cedric Martin.
Simply getting out of bed usually takes at least 20 minutes for Utah's senior small forward. Asking him for a specific ache is futile. Everything hurts, from the groin that caused him to miss three games this season to his chipped elbow.
Martin will start his last game at the Huntsman Center on Saturday afternoon, when the Utes try to take down conference contender Oregon in their regular-season finale. Martin is 22 years old, a relative baby, yet he estimates that his body feels about 40.
"I feel like an MMA fighter on most mornings," Martin said. "Sometimes I'm so stiff and it's so hard to move. If I slept until noon, there would be no way I could get out of bed to go to practice."
College basketball highlights the players who go on to play in the NBA or overseas to play professionally, making money in the process. But there are many more stories like Martin's that don't get told.
Unless Utah makes a miracle run through the Pac-12 Tournament, next week likely will mark the end of Martin's competitive playing career. His senior year has been a mixed bag of nagging injuries that have caught up to him and limited his effectiveness as the best perimeter defender on Larry Krystkowiak's team. It hasn't been anything specific. Rather, it's been the normal wear and tear of being a college basketball player.
Martin can't tell you the future, but he says he probably won't play ball on a regular basis again. At this point, he's thinking of his quality of life as he gets older. Yet, he hasn't missed time this season, other than the three games in December where he couldn't tough out his groin injury.
"That one was too painful," Martin said. "I just couldn't push through it."
Krystkowiak describes Martin as a "warrior" and a "foxhole guy." Martin is clearly one of his favorites. Any Utah fan will tell you that the 6-foot-4, 225-pound forward isn't the biggest, or the strongest Ute on the team. He's not the fastest. He used to be one of the better dunkers on the squad, but the injuries have robbed him of his leaping ability.
He arrived on campus from Lee Junior College with a reputation as a shooter. But as time went on, he became one of the best defenders in the Pac-12. This year alone, he's shut down people like UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad, BYU's Tyler Haws and Washington's Scott Suggs. He will be the only player from Krystkowiak's first recruiting class to make it through the program and graduate.
"He's the one guy that every college basketball team needs," Krystkowiak said. "He's been a tremendous example for the younger players. He carries himself professionally and approaches the everything that way on and off the court. He has been a tremendous asset to the program."
When Martin stands on the court with his father Cedric Sr., it will all be worth it. He was an all-state forward at Washburn High on the tough south side of Minneapolis because of his father's emotional and financial support. He was all-region at Lee, and a two-year starter for the Utes because of his father and his dedication to his career.
He will graduate this spring with no regrets. All of the AAU games, the workouts at 6 a.m., it will be worth it. Basketball has done its job for Martin because he put the work in. He used the game to garner himself an education.
It stands as no coincidence that Martin has been a team captain at all three schools. On the outside, he's cool and unique, a quiet person with a midwest love for the rap group Bone Thugs N Harmony. He averages 4.1 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game, but his value goes well beyond statistics.
"He's taught us so much," freshman point guard Brandon Taylor said. "He's taught me about being a college basketball player. He's such a good defender and he's really made a name for himself in the conference."
Oregon at Utah
O At the Huntsman Center
Tipoff • Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network. Radio • 700 AM
Records • Utah (12-17, 4-13); Oregon (23-7, 12-5)
Last meeting • Oregon 73, Utah 64 (February 9)
About the Ducks • Oregon with a win can clinch at least a tie of the Pac-12 title. .. The Ducks are ranked 19th nationally. … Carlos Emery has averaged 16 points over his last three games. … Dominic Artis has just returned to the lineup following an ankle injury. .. Oregon is statistically the best defensive team in the Pac-12.
About the Utes • Utah will honor five seniors playing their last home games. .. Jason Washburn joined the 1,000 point club in the win over Oregon State. … Jordan Loveridge has four double-doubles on the season. … Utah is looking for its first Pac-12 winning streak. … The Utes led Oregon by eight points at halftime on the road last month.