Oceania & Australia Basketball News, Stories & Events • Noticias, Historias & Eventos del Baloncesto en Oceanía y Australia Can Damian Martin be a FIBA star?
Patty Mills was on the fly in transition, approaching a stationary Damian Martin near the three-point line at Challenge Stadium in Perth.
Mills turned on the jets and exploded to the hole, a sight international basketball fans will be all too familiar with. The Portland Trailblazer elevated for a lefty lay-up, but somehow Martin was there towering above him to throw it against the backboard.
For those who haven't seen him play, Martin is a 188cm point guard who is often the best rebounder and shot-blocker on the court.
Like an Australian Jason Kidd he makes teammates better, does all the things that don't show up on the stats sheet, and will always want to defend the opposition's best guard.
Last Friday, he led the Perth Wildcats to a dominant 92-76 home victory over Mills and the Melbourne Tigers in the NBL.
Martin hounded Mills into a 7/19 shooting night, 10 of his 19 points coming in late in the game once the result was decided. For his part Martin finished with 13 points on 5/9, 7 assists, 2 steals and that emphatic block that brought the sell-out crowd to fever pitch.
While Mills is widely considered Australia's best point guard, Martin's performance showed the science is not settled.
But what about international basketball? Apart from his prominent role in Australia's triumph at the 2003 FIBA U19 World Championship, Martin has largely been invisible on the world stage.
At the 2010 FIBA World Championship the 26-year-old saw a total of 10 minutes in the Boomers' crunch games against Argentina, Serbia and Slovenia. In this year's FIBA Oceania Championship he was kept out of sight until a spot in London was secured.
Some say his relentless style is well-suited to the fast-paced NBL, but he simply won't be able to apply the same pressure at the highest level, particularly against the world's best guards.
His five fouls in 14 minutes against Germany in 2010 seem to lend some weight to that theory, albeit in junk time, but Perth and former Australian junior coach Rob Beveridge will have none of it.
"He just destroyed Patty Mills in pre-season and he did it again," Beveridge said of Friday night's display. "Damo was an absolute nightmare for him and that's what he can do to other guards.
"Just throw him out and let him dog them; get in their face, deny them, he'll pinch a couple of steals. He'll make every player work for their points, and I think the Boomers need to have a little more faith in him."
Martin doesn't appear to be as confident as his coach.
"Coming into it (Oceania) I knew I'd be the third string point guard and not many teams play three," he said after the series win against New Zealand.
"You've got Patty Mills and (Matthew) Dellavedova … and those two have secured a spot, but there is 12 months to improve my game to get a spot in the team and a spot in the rotation."
For Beveridge, Martin has been his own worst enemy in the FIBA game, playing with uncharacteristic hesitancy and attending training camp despite a significant back injury.
"He played like a scared rabbit, I was completely disappointed with how he was," Beveridge said. "He made the worst decision by going to Boomers camp and training. He said 'I don't want to sit out', but he only trained at 70%, he lost his quickness and lost his athleticism."
Beveridge added: "Damo thought 'I am not going to let anyone down' (by not training), but he let himself down."
So what is the next step for Martin to become a genuine player on the world stage?
"It's all about opportunity and game style," Beveridge said. "If you want to bog him down in the half-court and be careful and over-cautious, no he won't (excel). But if you give him the ability to play with some freedom and back himself and play with no fear he could be a FIBA star."
While Australian junior teams have long played aggressively at both ends of the court - and the senior team introduced aspects of that in 2007 and 2008 - the Boomer's current style is focused more on half-court play.
It is a contrast to how Australians grow up playing basketball, and a paradox coach Brett Brown is trying to overcome by encouraging his squad members to play their club basketball in Europe.
Martin is focused on adapting his game to try and crack the rotation for the London Olympics.
"Ball-handling and patience are the main ones, and Ill continue to work on my shot," he said about his aims for this year. "It's just a completely different style of game in Europe so you look at their skill package and you try and adapt the skills that can help my game."
They are necessary adjustments for Martin, but his many fans must wonder if he will ever get to show his free-wheeling, creative open-court game in FIBA play. Beveridge thinks he needs to take that into the Boomers' half-court style.
"Damian Martin is never going to be a great scorer, but he makes everyone else around him better," Beveridge said. "I think he has to aim to have five assists per game. He's got to get into the lane and find the open man because he is such a good passer.
"If he continues with the defensive side of things he will be one of the top defensive guards in the world. If he can create for others as well that puts him in a position where you have to play him."
His performance against Mills backs up Beveridge's thoughts, and it has given Martin extra confidence.
"When you get to play against someone like Patty, who is a legitimate star at international level, you do take confidence away from it when you know you can match up with them," he said.
Friday was a desperately needed confidence-booster after a disappointing international season, according to Beveridge.
"He was not the same Damian Martin who left us when he came back," he said. "He really had no self-belief and now we're trying to get him back to where he was."
Mills will confirm that Martin is flying high once again, the question is when will the rest of the world get to see it?
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