Former ASU guard Remy Martin keys national championship hopes for Jayhawks

After spending most of his career with Arizona State, Remy Martin chose to transfer to Kansas, where he is attempting to become the missing piece on a national title contender. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – Given an extra year to play college basketball because of the NCAA’s COVID-19 waiver, ASU guard Remy Martin had made up his mind. He was going to spend the final season of his career playing for the Kansas Jayhawks, attempting to become the missing piece on a national title contender.

But as ASU’s most notable player of the past decade finalized his decision, he pondered his Sun Devils legacy.

“It would mean a lot to Remy – and he’ll never tell you this – I don’t think he’ll tell anybody, but he’s told me,” Remy’s father, Sam Martin, told Cronkite News. “It would mean a lot to Remy. He wants his jersey up there (in Tempe).”

“Do you still think that’s a possibility?” Martin asked his father as he closed one door and opened another in mid-May. Sam told his son, who sits second in ASU’s record book in assists, sixth in scoring and eighth in steals, that the time would come, he just had to be patient.

“Obviously, it won’t be today, it won’t be tomorrow but I do think it will happen for you. If anybody does it exactly how you just did it, I think it’s going to be hard for them to deny you. You’ve poured your heart and soul into ASU. I think you’ll still be rewarded for that.”

Eligibility freezes provided by the NCAA during the pandemic created unintended consequences and fostered an odd dynamic. But when Martin appeared in a video released May 6 by ASU’s media department, thanking Bobby Hurley, athletic director Ray Anderson and university president Michael Crow for four great years, it was hard for most to foresee the 6-foot guard playing in another uniform. Eleven days later, the ASU graduate announced plans to play at Kansas – one of the finalists on his original high-school recruiting list – if his NBA dreams didn’t pan out.

With an extra season in Tempe, Martin could have risen up program leader boards, but he wanted to pursue something different. When the NBA said “No thanks,” Martin headed to Lawrence with hopes of closing his college career as a championship winner.

“ASU was a blessing,” Sam said of Remy’s four seasons with the Sun Devils. “Loved ASU. I loved everything about it. I miss Tempe. That city, the experience was amazing.

“Basketball-wise, this was much needed for Remy just to get a restart and get back to doing some things that he used to do.”

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During the final two seasons under ASU coach Bobby Hurley, Martin averaged 19.1 points per game. Evolving into a score-first guard out of necessity took the Burbank, California, native out of his ideal element. With more freedom, Martin was allowed to coast defensively to exert effort on offense.

“When you’re with coach Hurley at ASU, you have a little bit more rope because they know you,” Sam said. “We could care less about if he led the team in scoring. I’d be much happier if he led the team in assists.”

Twice while wearing maroon and gold, Martin played an integral role in defeating the Jayhawks. In 2017, he announced his arrival at ASU with a freshman season-high 21 points in a 95-85 win at Allen Fieldhouse. When KU paid ASU a return visit to Tempe in 2018, Martin made late-game shots to defeat the No. 1 ranked Jayhawks for the second year in a row. On the receiving end of those program-defining ASU wins was redshirt super senior forward Mitch Lightfoot, who in his sixth season at Kansas now is Martin’s teammate.

“It’s kind of funny because I’ve known Remy for a while,” Lightfoot, who’s from Gilbert Christian High School, told Cronkite News with a chuckle. “I’ve always kind of viewed him as an opponent, because I was always competing against him, whether that be in high school or in college. It’s awesome being able to play with him because he’s one of those players you hate to play against and you love to play with.”

After suffering a bone bruise to his right knee during a Dec. 29 win over Nevada, Martin struggled to find his usual burst of acceleration for the majority of Big 12 conference play. Without it, Kansas fans and coach Bill Self struggled to see the version of Martin that twice gave them fits.

“He’s a great player,” Lightfoot said. “He competes so hard and he wants to win so bad. He’s got a personality about him that anybody playing with him will tell you, it’s enjoyable. I love Remy to death and I think we both share that bond with Arizona.”

Ample evidence over decades of NCAA Tournaments has shown that solid guard play in March is as good an indication of who will cut down the nets as anything else. Whether it be Duke legend Hurley, UConn’s Kemba Walker or countless others, it’s hard to run out of examples of great guards dictating the outcome of March Madness moments.

“I’m just happy that I’m healthy and feeling a lot better and feeling like myself,” Remy said ahead of Friday’s matchup with fourth-seeded Providence. “This is something that I’ve always wanted to do when I got to Kansas. I’m happy that I get to be on the court. I came here to win and whatever the team needs me to do, I’m willing to do.”

So when Self visited the transfer portal in May 2021 to add Martin as a potential missing piece to a title team in Lawrence, he did so hoping the two-time All-Pac-12 First Team selection could swing the outcome of games in March. During the opening two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, Martin did that for the Jayhawks, leading KU in scoring for the first two times all season on the biggest stage.

“This time of year when the teams are naturally better the further you go it’s hard to get good shots off the stuff you run,” Self said. “You get shots off your players more than you do off the stuff you run. You want to run good stuff to put your players in position to get a look, but very rarely do you get some of the things you get during the regular season.”

Remy Martin had the opportunity to place the Jayhawks sticker on the bracket after Kansas defeated the Creighton Bluejays during the second round of the 2022 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. (Photo by Andy Hancock/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

In Saturday’s round of 32 game against Creighton, Kansas’ Naismith Player of the Year Finalist Ochai Agbaji struggled in the first half, scoring just two points. Needing an offensive spark, Martin came off the bench to score 16 first half points, one shy of his season high in a KU uniform.

“With Remy out there, you can run bad offense and he can just make a shot,” Self said Tuesday of Martin’s 20-point performance. “Great teams all have players like that.”

Sam Martin said the pull-up jumpers and flashy assists are just “Remy being Remy.” With greater health and more comfort in Self’s system, Sam hopes there’s more of that to come.

“I’m happy he’s having fun, but again he was having fun at the beginning of the year when he first got there. He likes Kansas. He likes that environment,” Sam said. “If you know Remy, you know he likes the crowd, he likes to entertain so to speak. He was having fun the whole year it was just the knee injury, his back was bothering him a little bit and his ankle – so he got banged up a little bit through the process. He was frustrated with himself because he’d never been injured like that.”

At Arizona State, Martin and the Sun Devils made two trips to the First Four in Dayton, losing as a freshman to Syracuse and returning as a sophomore to defeat St. John’s before eventually falling to Buffalo in the first round. The Sun Devils’ two straight NCAA Tournaments represented the program’s first back-to-back trips since 1981. With Martin contending for Pac-12 Player of the Year in 2020 and ASU winning eight of their final 11 games, the Sun Devils were likely headed for a third consecutive tournament appearance before the pandemic shut down the 2020 season. Returning as a senior, a preseason top 25 team was derailed by COVID-19 pauses and a lack of consistency.

“I know how fans are and I know how people are,” Sam said of the ASU fanbase’s reaction to Martin’s departure. “I would hope they would appreciate what he’s done and what he brought to the program and the way he carried himself.”

Always a showman on the court, Martin’s final shot at Desert Financial Arena was a stepback buzzer-beating 3-pointer to beat Washington State. Closing his time in Tempe in bittersweet fashion, the normally boisterous guard was unable to be embraced by the fans who so often had cheered him. Rather than end his career in front of rows of empty maroon seats in the midst of a pandemic, Martin opted to join a blue blood for packed crowds at one of the sport’s greatest venues.

In a Midwest region that’s already seen KU’s top two challengers fall, the Jayhawks are Las Vegas favorites to head to New Orleans for the Final Four. Overall, sportsbooks give Kansas the third-best odds to do what Martin showed up in Lawrence with plans to do: win the national championship.

After cutting down nets following a Big 12 Tournament title in Kansas City earlier this month, Martin told reporters he’d never cut nets but he had plans to cut a couple more.

“That would be amazing,” Sam said of a potential Final Four trip and national title hopes. “That’s why we went to Kansas. There are certain schools people go to for that type of opportunity. You go to those schools to have that opportunity and one day be on that stage, cut nets and live in immortality forever.”

Gabe Swartz gAYb swahrts
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Gabe Swartz expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in business. Swartz, a past president of the Walter Cronkite Sports Network who writes for Devils Digest, is working for the Phoenix sports bureau.