Nicole Martin: Bringing the intensity for Saluki women’s basketball

By Brooke Buerck, Staff Reporter

Opponents of the Saluki women’s basketball team will have eyes on senior Nicole Martin.

Prior to the start of the official season, Martin received Missouri Valley Conference Preseason awards for the second year in a row. Martin said she was surprised both times she received the honor, but is grateful nevertheless. 

“It almost adds a little bit of pressure for me for the season, knowing that I have this expectation, but at the same time it doesn’t make me nervous,” Martin said. 

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The 6-foot-1-inch forward from Jefferson City, Missouri has earned All-MVC honors each year of her career as a Saluki, including being named to the MVC All-Freshman Team in 2016 and the All-MVC First Teams in 2017 and 2018. 

Putting up 15 points in Southern’s season-opening 103-67 win over SIUE, Martin has already made an impact for the Salukis early into the season. 

Despite her success as a basketball player, Martin said when she was younger she didn’t like the sport. 

“My family was actually big on basketball, but I hated it with a passion,” Martin said. “I thought for sure I was going to go to college, [even] play in the Olympics, for soccer.”

Martin comes from a family with several collegiate athletes. Martin’s mother played basketball, her father and two of her brothers played football for Lincoln University in Jefferson City. One sister played basketball for Alabama A&M, and her sister Kezia ran track and played basketball for one season at SIU. 

Martin, who studies exercise science and nursing at SIU, started playing basketball in eighth grade. 

“Ever since then I fell in love with the sport,” Martin said. “My eighth grade [coaches …] gave me a very good start to basketball. They were very intense, and I honestly think that’s where I got my intensity from a little bit. They were my very first real coaches.”

Passion is something Martin said she sometimes struggles to control.

Senior guard Brittney Patrick, who has played with Martin for four years at SIU, said Martin’s intensity is something that the team helps her handle.

“She has her moments where she can be a hot head, but she knows that she has to calm down for the betterment of the team,” Patrick said. “We all know how to calm her down.” 

The teammates knows how to calm her down, Patrick said.

“I get intense, which I feel is both a good thing and a bad thing,” Martin said. “Just understanding how to tone that down, I still haven’t yet mastered that.”

Martin said she chose to play for Southern not only because of the scholarship opportunities, but because of the campus’ perfect size, and the appeal of Saluki gear.

“The main reason I came here is because, on my visit, they showed a table of all the gear that we would get, and I was like, ‘Okay, I’m sold,’” Martin said.

In addition, Martin said she enjoyed basketball head coach Cindy Stein’s bubbly and funny personality. She wanted to be a part of the atmosphere Stein’s attitude created.

Martin said the coaching staff has always pushed her to be her best both on and off the court.

During her freshman and sophomore years, she felt under a lot of pressure when her coaches would tell her what she should do. 

“Now that I’m a senior, I look back on that and I’m like, ‘Ahh, I love them,’” Martin said.

Assistant coach Jody Adams-Birch said Martin learned from her experiences with the help of the coaching staff and Stein. 

“When you talk about maturity on the court, that just comes with challenges and trials that you have probably faced your [previous] years,” Adams-Birch said. 

Although Martin said she has never suffered setbacks from any major injuries, she does struggle with a stutter when she speaks. 

“Not only just with speaking to others and coaches and players and friends, but it’s set back my confidence a lot to speak,” Martin said. “And it’s not just in speaking, that goes over to basketball too.” 

Even with awards, Martin said she still struggles somewhat with confidence.

“I think basketball definitely has helped kind of build [my confidence],” Martin said. “Maybe I can’t talk that [well], but I’m an OK basketball player, so that kind of helps.”

She is a better leader when she leads by example, Martin said.

“It’s just as important in saying stuff as it is in doing it,” she said. 

Patrick said Martin’s competitiveness is what drives other members of the team. 

“I think [her competitive attitude] makes everybody step up their game. Without it, I don’t think we’d be half as competitive as we are now,” Patrick said. “I think she’s a role model [of an] athlete, and I think we all look up to that and want to be that as well.”

Martin’s attitude is something special, Adams-Birch said.

“The intangibles she brings are things that as a coach, you don’t coach,” Adams-Birch said. “She’s a competitor, she wants the ball, she wants to be that scorer for this team. She’s a very uncommon player.”

As the Salukis are still early in their 2019 season, Martin and Patrick hope to continue to make a difference for Southern Illinois women’s basketball as they finish out their senior seasons. 

Sports reporter Brooke Buerck can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @bbuerck25.

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