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FEATURE

First Championship as a Pro the Sole Focus for 'Rell

Written for nbl.com.au by Chris Pike

Jarell Martin loves everything about the Sydney Kings. He loves his teammates, his coaching staff, the club and the fans. He loves living down under too. But right now, he is thinking of one thing and one thing only – trying to win the first championship of his professional career.

Martin had a good first season in the NBL at the Kings putting up 17.9 points and 7.0 rebounds a game and shooting 50 per cent from the field, and 40 per cent from downtown, so it was a natural for him to return for #NBL22.

He wasn’t interested in coming back to worry about any individual numbers or accolades though. The 27-year-old from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, set his sights on doing whatever he needed to help the Kings win the championship.

While the Kings are trying to win a first title since 2005, Martin is looking to win the first ring of his professional career as well and that's where his sole focus is now leading into the semi-final series with the Illawarra Hawks starting with Game 1 in Wollongong on Friday night.

"It would be real special if we did that and it would be my first professional championship. It would definitely be meaningful for me but we have a lot of work to do to get to that point," Martin said.

"I'm blocking out anything else and nothing else matters right now at this time of the year. We are right there at the finish line so we just have to dig down deep, and go in and get us five games to win this championship."

Beyond whatever happens in this semi-final series or after that if the Kings are able to get by the Hawks, Martin would certainly entertain the prospect of remaining in Sydney and the NBL.

However, right now, he doesn’t want to put any attention into thinking about anything but the immediate job at hand.

"Australia's nice, man," he said. 

"It's definitely one of the best countries in the world and with our team and staff here, it's definitely a situation I could see wanting to remain part of in the future and building a home here. 

"But there's still some things that me and the owners and stuff will work on and talk about more on after we finish this season and getting the job done."

Now that the opening game of the semi finals is approaching, Martin is feeling good and can't help but be excited about what's to come. 

And even though he would have been ready to go on Wednesday night if need be, he's happy with how things have worked out to now be preparing for Game 1 at the WIN Entertainment Centre on Friday night.

"I'm feeling great, man. This is what we sign up for as basketball players to be able to compete for a championship. For us to be able to make it to the playoffs and be in this position is great, it's a wonderful feeling," Martin said.

"It still would have been good and I would have been ready for battle, but it was good for us to have those extra days and go over the scouting reports and everything a bit more, and pay more attention to detail and clean up a few things on our end. It's given us a chance to really tune in and work on the things that we need to do to be ready come Friday."

Martin has produced an outstanding second season in the NBL at the Kings putting up 16.0 points and 7.9 rebounds a game while shooting 51.4 per cent from the floor and 37.3 per cent from three-point land.

He's happy enough with his own form, but even more so with the frontcourt combination he's formed with Xavier Cooks who has only continued to go from strength to strength.

"I'm pretty happy with how the season has gone even though there's still some room for improvement, and things I can still work on and be better at. I've definitely tried to go out there to do what I can to put my team in the best position to win games," Martin said.

"It's great and definitely helpful, and big for our team knowing we can play off each other and stuff like that. What he brings to the table with his whole game has just been great for us this year and I love playing alongside him. 

"I knew the type of player that he was and I know he battled with some tough injuries last year, but I always admired his game and knew the help he could bring for us. Now you're seeing how valuable he is to us."

Martin now can't wait to take on the Hawks with a Grand Final spot on the line and even though not getting home court advantage wasn't ideal, he doesn’t think it will be much of a factor.

After all, both teams won on the opponent's home floor in the final two rounds and there's only an hour's drive between the two cities. 

The rivalry is naturally there too and Martin is happy to embrace that and be part of it, but more than anything he's just excited to get things underway.

"I'm definitely excited and I wish we could have got the first game to kick it off here at home in front of our fans, but I know we'll still have a lot of supporters come down to Wollongong to support us out there, and then when we get home on Sunday I'm sure the Sydney Kings fans will come out and put a show on for us, and definitely support us and get us going.

"It's really fun for us to be part of it with the history that these two teams have from the past, and knowing we're not far from each other. It's great for us to have this test for the first round of the playoffs and our fans can come out and it won't be a problem for both sets of fans to come out to show support, and just watch some good games."

Martin is somewhat of a gentle giant, he's softly spoken and a big man with a big heart away from the basketball court. 

That's exactly why he has thrown himself fully into giving the Kings everything because they have made him feel right at home, and like he's part of the family. On the court, Martin's competitive fire kicks in and he is one tough beast to stop, and he couldn’t be having more fun than playing on this team.

"Just everyone involved at the club with the staff, the players, the coaching staff, the owners and everyone have just been great. It's been open doors for everyone and they've embraced us players who have come in with open arms, and have made us feel right at home which is a great feeling," Martin said.

"It's definitely how it looks with this team. We have a great group of guys and the energy is fun within the group, man. 

"Even off the court we all hang out and just build that chemistry, and have a good bond with each other. That's good and it transfers over onto the court, and it just makes things easier when you have a great group of guys who are passionate about winning, and that's important to us."

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