Kansas Jayhawks power forward Cam Martin adjusts to ‘physical’ play of NCAA Division I

·6 min read
Gary Bedore/gbedore@kcstar.com

Sixth-year Kansas power forward Cam Martin noticed a huge difference between NCAA Division II and major-college Division I hoops after transferring from Missouri Southern State University to KU following the 2020-21 season.

“It is a much more physical game here, going from not being able to touch anybody to pretty much free game as a 5-man,” Martin, a 6-foot-9, 230-pound native of Yukon, Oklahoma, said during a recent interview at Bill Self’s summer camp for youths at Allen Fieldhouse.

“That was a big adjustment for me at the beginning,” added Martin, the second-leading scorer in MSSU Lions history.

He elected to redshirt — practice but not play in games — in 2021-22 at KU while gaining knowledge of what it takes to succeed in the physical Big 12 Conference. That pushed his Jayhawks debut to this coming season: 2022-23.

“I tried so hard at Missouri Southern to not get in foul trouble,” he said. “Here, it’s different as far as fouling and being physical and sealing guys. So it was a good adjustment. I’m glad I got to adjust to it, for sure.”

Martin, who has been on campus since early June for KU’s summer school session and ensuing drills with the 2022-23 team, is indeed discovering that defense can be more hands-on in high-major hoops. He received an initial taste of Division I’s intensity as a freshman at mid-major Jacksonville State in 2017-18. He switched from the Alabama school to MSSU for his sophomore season.

“We worked a lot on me playing as a 4 (power forward) and switching all ball screens because, with us, 1 through 4 is kind of the same position,” Martin said of KU’s defensive alignment. “I guarded a lot of guys on the perimeter most of the season (at practice as a member of KU’s scout team). I really did not guard the 5-man a bunch.”

When helping run the opposing team’s plays on offense, Martin said he “switched back and forth from the 4 or 5. It just kind of depends on who we were playing. If the team we were playing had a better 5-man I’d play the 5-man or if we were playing a team with a better wing I’d play on the wing.”

Martin, who played for former KU standout guard Jeff Boschee at MSSU, is known as a versatile player who is a threat to connect from beyond the three-point line.

After hitting 11 of 26 threes (42.3%) during his freshman year at Jacksonville State, he converted 31 of 89 threes (34.8%) in his sophomore season at MSSU, 34 of 95 (35.8%) his junior year and 49 of 110 (44.5%) as a senior. He averaged 25.0 points and 9.1 rebounds per game in 2020-21 before heading to KU for a Super Senior season.

“Depending who is guarding me,” Martin said, asked if he’ll be quick to release shots from beyond the arc during the upcoming season. “Maybe me and Zach (Clemence, 6-10 sophomore from San Antonio) can play a little bit together, us both being able to shoot. We do some of that in practice. We take turns posting up and shooting (threes). We’ll see what happens.”

Asked what his ideal spot on the court would be, Martin said: “That’s a tough question because it depends so much on matchups. I guess if I had a slower guy who’s bigger I’d be in more pick-and-pop situations on the perimeter, just moving, going by him (or) shooting. If I go against somebody smaller or switch ball screens, just roll him into the post and post him up. So it really depends on personnel, who we are playing, who is guarding me and things like that.”

Martin was quick to add he’s willing to play “wherever I’m needed.” And he has learned a lot about what 20th-year KU coach Self values from his bigs on a daily basis.

“I feel like Coach Self has one speed, and that’s max speed at all times. He expects excellence. I mean, you have to be perfect,” Martin said.

“He’s going to coach you hard. And if he sees in guys he can affect you he’s going to get on you even more and you’ve got to be mentally tough and just take it all with a grain of salt and have a ‘next play’ mentality. Be mentally tough and just worry about the next play.”

Self thinks Martin can earn significant minutes this season.

“Cam is a good player. He is a legitimate 6-8 1/2, can shoot it, has pretty good bounce. His athleticism has improved a ton,” Self said. “The question I have with him: ‘Can he actually defend and protect the rim?’ That’s not what he’s ever done. He’s been a scorer.

“He’ll play a ton for us. He’s really good. For him to become really, really good he will have to take steps on that (defensive) end. He will have to get where he rebounds the ball better, defends his position to be terrific. But he’ll be good from the start. He can score.”

Martin said his goal during summer drills has been to “get better every day for the upcoming season, just to show up for my teammates and win basketball games.”

He likes KU’s newcomer group of freshman bigs Zuby Ejiofor and Ernest Udeh and guards Gradey Dick and MJ Rice, plus senior transfer guard Kevin McCullar. Other scholarship big men on the roster are Clemence and KJ Adams.

“Cam can shoot the ball, but he’s a strong post player, so he can do all types of things,” Adams, a 6-7, 225-pound sophomore forward from Austin, Texas, said. “It just depends what he’s needed to do.”

Martin said as much fun as he had as a member of KU’s 2022 national-title team, he and his current teammates have shifted gears to concentrating on the 2022-23 season.

“It was so much fun,” Martin said of his redshirt year. “I saw a lot of new things. I mean traveling all over the place, the private plane (for road trips). We didn’t have that at Missouri Southern. It was a cool experience going to different gyms and experiencing it all for the first time.

“To win the championship game and go to the parade and see all the fan support, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, for sure. But it kind of set in when we got here for the summer (drills): We’re working on next season. We are focused on that.”

In other words, Martin and his teammates would like to be celebrating a title defense next spring.

“We’ll be hungry, not complacent,” he said. “We enjoy winning. We’ll be excited to get going. I’m excited getting one (title). I want to get two. I’m excited for everybody. Being a redshirt, I’m ready to go.”

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