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How mom’s persistence points Caleb Martin from Davie County to the NBA

Nevada’s Caleb Martin on NBA draft workout

Nevada’s Caleb Martin on pursuing his NBA dream.
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Nevada’s Caleb Martin on pursuing his NBA dream.

Back in Davie County, when Caleb Martin and his two brothers were living in a trailer and not always getting enough to eat, their mom, Jenny Bennett, had an approach to keep life on balance.

“She said, ‘Sacrifice now, to enjoy later,’” Martin recalled after a predraft workout with the Charlotte Hornets on Thursday.

“That was her motto. She worked three jobs at the same time. She sacrificed her needs and her wants to make sure we were fine and got through college. Now it’s our time to do our part.”

Caleb and his twin brother, Cody (they have an older brother, Raheem), took up basketball as a way to occupy time and stay out of trouble in a little town, not because they saw it as future careers. But it got them to N.C. State and the two later transferred to Nevada together. Now, they have both been invited to next week’s G-League elite camp in Chicago, a feeder event for the NBA draft combine.

Caleb is a guard-forward with a gift for scoring (19 points per game in his two seasons at Nevada). He’ll need to get stronger at 6-foot-7 and 200 pounds, but he has the frame that fits the template for NBA wing players. Cody isn’t as much of a scorer (about a 13-point average at Nevada), but had a better shooting percentage (50 percent from the field, versus 40 percent for Caleb).

Often, the difference between talented maybes and players who stick in the NBA is the persistence and problem-solving skills to survive. Caleb Martin says he had an exceptional model for those tests in his mom.

“That’s why, when I’m out on the court, I go as hard as I can; I know how much she sacrificed for me and my brothers,” said Martin, who projects as a second-round pick in the June 20 draft.

“She gave up a lot to make sure we became the men we are today. It’s only right that someday I can give back — sometime soon. Then it will be my time to provide for her.”

The Martin twins took a chance in the summer of 2017, roaming far from North Carolina to play for coach Eric Musselman in Reno (Musselman recently took the Arkansas job).

A former NBA head coach with the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings, Musselman obviously had a lot of knowledge to impart. But uprooting to northern Nevada was a test of that persistence and adaptability Jenny Bennett taught her sons.

“I was a little miserable,” Martin said. “The first two months were my hardest in college basketball; not because of Reno or the people in Reno, but because of uprooting.

“You don’t know anybody. I’d never been there more than a (weeklong visit). I’m going from the ACC to a mid-major. I’m learning a whole new system on a whole new team.”

And yet he thrived. In addition to his 19 points, he averaged about five rebounds and three assists in 34 minutes per game. Nevada reached the NCAA tournament both his seasons there, advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2018.

Now, there is the side benefit that Musselman’s NBA background challenged Martin in a cerebral sense; he feels the terminology and the complexity of NBA tactics aren’t as daunting in these auditions because of all Musselman expected of his players intellectually.

It helped that Martin built a friendship with a former Nevada player, ex-Charlotte Bobcat Ramon Sessions, who grew up in South Carolina.

“He taught me so much of this is about more than basketball; it’s mental,” Martin said. “If you want to be a pro, you have to grasp those things and grasp them quickly.

“That’s what they do in these (predraft) workouts, test: Half the kids in college don’t have that terminology, that information. They want to throw it at you, see how you absorb it, see how you implement it while playing.”

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