by Josh Adams
To understand Melik Martin’s career at Monmouth you have to understand where he comes from.
Martin was born and raised in York, Pennsylvania. It’s a small multicultural city an hour north of Baltimore. It’s a blue-collar town that has big city problems and a small city budget. While not a glamourous place, York has produced its fair share of notable people including this year’s Super Bowl-winning coach Bruce Arians. Growing up there like Martin and I did (full disclosure, I went to high school and am friends with Melik’s family) you get a sense of ownership in the community. To give back to the York community that helped to raise you. I was raised to appreciate what I had and the city I was brought up in. He was raised the same way by his parents. Education and helping the community was always put on the front burner at his house growing up. Getting a college degree was the vehicle that could lead to bigger and better things. There was a life beyond York and Melik used his talent in basketball to kickstart his journey. It wasn’t easy and nothing was assured as far as a scholarship as he entered his senior year of high school. That’s when his play at York Catholic and on his AAU York Ballers team caught the eye of King Rice and Monmouth University and they offered him almost on the spot. The relationship between the coach and player is so integral and Rice and Melik remained dedicated to each other in his four years at Monmouth. As college transfers skyrocket in 2021 Melik’s college basketball story is decidedly old school. He bided his time on the bench. He learned from his upperclassmen teammates as the team rebuilt and listened to his coaches. His minutes grew from his freshman year on and by the time he was a senior last season he was ready to break out. Melik became a fan favorite at Monmouth and made all MAAC third-team as he led the Hawks to a co-regular season conference championship. After a tough MAAC Tournament loss to Fairfield, he decided to enter the transfer portal as a grad transfer as he will graduate in May with a degree in business administration. After four solid years for the Hawks, he is getting recruited again and has received interest from some high major schools. I had the chance to talk with him for over an hour in a free-flowing discussion and we talked about his career at Monmouth, the weirdness that was playing college basketball amid a pandemic, the steps of the transferring process, and our shared hometown of York. Melik was thoughtful in his answers and I came away from the interview knowing good things are in store for him in basketball and life. The next step in his career is a big one but he is ready to meet the moment.
CHD: First off, this past season your numbers skyrocketed. You averaged 12.5 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game. What clicked this season for you?
Martin: I had a goal this season. I knew I wanted to play professionally so I put in a lot of work in the offseason. I came in wanting to win and also knowing I was an important part of the team. I was comfortable taking more shots and I was ready.
CHD: What was it like for you as a reserve the past couple of years? Did you get impatient at times or was it sort of a learning process for you?
Martin: I got very impatient at times but yeah it’s all been learning. I had to figure out my role in games while sometimes barely touching the court.
CHD: You came in as a freshman after a great run for Monmouth and you were part of a rebuild of the program. What kind of satisfaction do you get from the improvement of the Hawks record from your freshman year (11-20) to becoming the MAAC regular-season co-champions this past season?
Martin: It feels good to have some sort of title. Unfortunately, we lost in the first round of the MAAC Tournament against Fairfield. That was frustrating. I wanted more but you just have to continue to work. I’ll say this, it felt good to win that. (regular season co-championship). There were a lot of ups and downs the past couple of years and I feel that in my class we grew together and learned a lot and experienced a lot.
CHD: This season was so odd with the Covid factor in college basketball. How was it getting used to the protocols at first and getting used to the “new normal” of practice and games during the 2020-21 season?
Martin: Well, my first time getting tested was when I came back to school so that was different from not getting tested all summer. We were getting tested three times a week during the season which was a blessing because Coach Rice made that a priority. There were a lot of different things. Our team wore masks during practice and of course around the facilities, in the weight room, and around other teams. Our preseason workouts were outdoors a lot of the time. We were trying to stay safe and also not trying to catch what was going on around us. Even during the season traveling was a bit different. We were on a bus but we weren’t sitting around people, we didn’t go to our usual restaurants for our pregame meals. It felt like it was just us so we just stayed together a lot. The schedule was different with playing back to back against the same team. It’s not an easy task to win a game after winning or losing to that team the previous day.
CHD: I know you guys had strict protocols as basketball players. Were playing in the actual games sort of a relief for you?
Martin: Yes, it was a blessing to touch that floor every night. You have to remember that this was taken away from us last spring. The NBA was shut down on a Wednesday and we were shut down on a Thursday. It was very fun to get back on the court and it gave us a purpose this season. We weren’t going to let them take this from us.
CHD: How did you personally process when the season was shut down last season? Did it have a long-term effect on you?
Martin: I was frustrated because my goal for that year was for us to get 20 wins. When that happened, it took away our shot to do that. I remember we were supposed to play at 9 PM that night that we got shut down. It’s crazy I remember it but we were waiting around all day. I didn’t even know that much about the Coronavirus at that time. When they called us in that night for a meeting I knew this was going to be serious. I remember thinking that this is a global thing, not just us.
CHD: In hindsight after the season ended, did you feel safe playing basketball? Did you think the protocols were adequate for you?
Martin: I feel that Monmouth handled it very well. I feel that quarantine hasn’t ended so I’m in my room right now. Granted, I hang with a small group of people and I feel like they’re safe and they get tested so I feel like it’s very minimal risk. Not everyone is handling it the same way. I give a lot of credit to the university for testing us three times a week. That was a big part of keeping us healthy. We were in quarantine three maybe four times during the year. You know it’s not easy to come out of quarantine but at the same time, you got to be healthy. I appreciated it last year when they shut it down because it was safety first. You know Iona was shut down for like fifty days this season. That’s almost two whole months of the season. Crazy.
CHD: After four years at Monmouth, what comes to mind when I mention your Coach, King Rice? What kind of relationship do you have with him?
Martin: That’s my guy. I appreciate all that he’s done for me and my teammates. When he saw me and gave me an opportunity I was considering prep school after high school and he said he would take me after my senior year or after my year in prep school. I went to Monmouth on an unofficial visit and three days later I committed to play there. In my time here I became a better player, I’ve grown up, I promised my parents that I would grow up, play basketball, and graduate and I’m getting my degree this May. That’s what Coach Rice said would happen and I’ve been blessed to be put in this situation. He looked out for me and I appreciate that.
CHD: Did it shock you that Iona won the conference tournament this year? As a player in the MAAC for the past four years, what is the secret to Iona consistently winning the MAAC Tournament?
Martin: (Laughs) I don’t know! What I can tell is that this year it looked like the players that were brought in bought into their roles right away. They all bought into Pitino and his name carries weight. Even if you’re not into basketball, you know Rick Pitino and a quick search will let you know all you need to know about his success in the NBA. I think they bought in at the right time and so did we but we bought in at the wrong point of the season.
CHD: After the MAAC Tournament, you decided to transfer. Could you take me through your thought process on that and tell the college basketball fan the actual process of entering the portal and the recruitment process of other schools?
Martin: I was honest with the coaches when we got back from the MAAC tournament that I was considering transferring. I was blessed with an extra year and I figured I would look at my options. I would say that next year I want to play on the wing. I played on the four the last four years and that’s a big part of my thought process. For me to be playing professionally, that would be a great move on my part. I could get film there and could get experience there. The transfer process for me was to talk with Coach Rice and let him know and take some time at home, get some home-cooked meals, and told the athletic department that I was going to enter the portal. I’ve been recruited by a lot of schools and I’ve been weighing a lot of things. Strength of program, the current roster, how they see me in the lineup, things like that. I will be pursuing my MBA too so that’s a factor. I grew up in an education first household. It’s a blessing. I appreciate that Coach Rice is letting me and my teammates take our time with the process.
CHD: I saw that when Seton Hall point guard Shavar Reynolds said he was going to transfer, you reached out on Twitter and said that you and he could be a package deal. Is that part of the thought process?
Martin: It does affect my decision. I would love to play with family (Reynolds and Martin are cousins). It sounds like a great idea to have someone on the court that’s looking out for you. We both have dreams of playing in the NBA whether we play together now or in the future, I think we’ll end up on some great teams together. His committing to Monmouth is affecting my decision and I was the selling point in him going there.
CHD: I saw that you tweeted out that St. Bonaventure was in contact with you. Could you give me the list of schools that have contacted you for next year?
Martin: I have been contacted by St. Bonaventure. My top five schools at the moment are Monmouth, St. Bonaventure, Florida-Gulf Coast, Pitt, and West Virginia. It’s been an interesting past few weeks for me and it’s cool to get recruited again. I’ve had a lot of people around me talk good things and reach out and I feel a lot of love these days. It’s a blessing to have all these positive opportunities ahead of me.
CHD: Is making the NCAA Tournament a priority in choosing a school to go to next year?
Martin: It’s a huge priority. I’m not trying to go to a losing team. I think whatever team I go to I’ll make an impact on and help them lead them to a championship.
CHD: Is this overwhelming to you? Do you have a lot of people telling you to go here or there? Are you relying on faith and family with this decision?
Martin: I’m relying on faith but no one is telling me where to go. I’ve been constantly in communication with my parents probably more now than in the last three years. I’m comfortable with whatever my decision is because I’m getting my degree. I’m walking out of here without owing anything except to my parents. I appreciate my parent’s advice because they are both college graduates. My Mom told me about this process, “There are known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.” What that means to me is that you can try to plan things out but it’s really up to God.
CHD: I wanted to get your opinion on AAU. You played for the York Ballers AAU Team. Do you think that it’s a benefit to players to play AAU?
Martin: It was a huge benefit. I got to travel and hoop against good competition. You know where York is located so I also played for the Baltimore Elite AAU team and we traveled all around the nation and played in places like Texas. It helped me experience playing against different types of players and it made me realize there’s another level of player that I wanted to be. I got to play in showcases and got some interest in D-1 schools and some top prep schools.
CHD: I wanted to talk about York for a minute since we’re both from there. Could you see yourself back one day as a leader in the community there?
Martin: For sure. When I was home there this past summer me and my friends who played basketball at the collegiate level started a non-profit in York called the See More Good Foundation. That was our way to give back to the kids. We started workouts, teaching kids life skills and financial literacy. It was amazing. We held workouts and kids popped up every week and that made me feel good because I love kids. The parents understood that we were trying to help them and the kids appreciated that we were trying to teach them some things. It was so much fun and I do want to continue to give back and be a positive role model.
(Read more about Melik’s foundation here: https://www.ydr.com/story/sports/2020/08/17/see-more-good-foundation-mentors-york-youth-beyond-basketball-courts/3361289001/ )
CHD: There’s something about York isn’t there? I know I’ve been gone a while but I still love the community. I root for it.
Martin: (Laughs) Boss, I went to both York High and York Catholic so I know all sides of it! There are a lot of positive things in York that could be highlighted by the national media. All we get are negative stories. The positive stories that happen there need to be shown.