BATON ROUGE — Madison Prep coach Jeffery Jones smiles when he thinks about how far Jarell Martin has come since he enrolled at the Baton Rouge charter school as a sophomore.
“To be honest with you, when Jarell came to us, I didn’t think much about basketball,” Jones said. “And now he’s this basketball dude. It’s amazing; it really is.”
The 6-foot-9 Martin transformed his game and the athletic fortunes of the third-year school by leading the Chargers to a semifinal berth in 2012 and the school’s first state title in Class B earlier this month.
Averages of 26.3 points, 14.8 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 4.1 blocked shots also helped Martin garner the 2013 Farm Bureau/Mr. Basketball award by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association.
“You know, I try to work hard to get better every day,” Martin said. “There are things I know I can still improve on, like handling the ball and defense. Getting awards is nice, but winning with my team is the main goal.”
Martin, who signed with LSU in November, morphed into one of nation’s top 20 prospects despite playing just two years of high school basketball.
As an eighth-grader, he stood 5-11. He didn’t play basketball as a freshman at Glen Oaks High and sat out his sophomore year at Madison after transferring there. By the time he took the court for the first time for the Chargers as a junior, he stood 6-7.
“Basketball really clicked for Jarell during the year he sat out,” Jones said. “He got bigger physically and he saw he had the chance to be a good player. He worked extremely hard to get to where his is now. He’s put in extra time in the gym and in the classroom.
“Jarell became a better student academically. And he’s also become a student of the game, he’s been like a sponge. He soaks everything in.”
Over the past two summers Martin has competed with some of the nation’s top players in AAU tournaments and showcases, picking up pointers along the way.
The Chargers advanced to the semifinals his junior year though Martin was still adjusting to his still-growing body and the disciplined style of high school basketball.
Martin has made that transition. One sequence in Madison’s semifinal win over Castor showcased his skills.
A defender got the piece of the basketball on a rebound, Martin didn’t grab the player. Instead, he tipped the ball away, retrieved it in the open court and did a 360-degree spin while maintaining his dribble to avoid another defender.
“You look at Jarell and you can see that he’s work extremely hard,” Scotlandville High coach Carlos Sample said. “The first year he played, he didn’t know how to get his body in position to block shots or make some other plays.
“Now he does those things. He’s got a unique skill set for a guy his size. (Former Glen Oaks star and the first Mr. Basketball winner) Lester Earl didn’t have it. I haven’t seen anybody his size in Baton Rouge who really has, at least not in high school.”
Martin has taken some big strides physical and in his game, but he takes awards and accomplishments stride.
“Coach (Jones) says the most important thing is that we (team) score,” Martin said. “I’ve got to work on to get ready for the next level. You’ve got to stay humble and work hard.”