By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal

MUSKEGON – Some people thought Christian Martinez should have played basketball at Muskegon High School.

After all, he’s very good at the sport, and he’s the stepson of Muskegon Coach Keith Guy, who led the Big Reds to a historic 28-0 record and Class A state championship last season.

Christian Martinez

Christian Martinez

Martinez is quick to acknowledge that Guy has taught him a lot about the game, and helped him improve his skills as he neared varsity age.

He also admits there were times he watched the Big Reds last season, and wondered what it would be like to play for his stepfather on such an incredible team.

But Martinez is a Muskegon Catholic Crusader, through and through, and said he never has had any serious thoughts about leaving his school.

“Going to the games and seeing that atmosphere, with the packed crowds, made me think it would be fun to be a part of that,” said Martinez about watching the Big Reds on their title run. “Some family members wanted me to (play at Muskegon). I never really thought about that until people started talking about it.

“But my Mom would never let it happen. She likes the Catholic education, and I’m very happy where I’m at.”

Martinez’ presence had paid big dividends for Muskegon Catholic over the past five months.

He was a starting cornerback on the Crusader squad that went undefeated and won its second consecutive Division 8 state football championship in the fall.

He also played an unexpectedly crucial role on offense. He was the backup to standout quarterback Nick Holt, and ended up starting two regular season games under center, and most of the state semifinal game, after Holt when down with an injury.

Martinez handled the responsibility well, helping the Crusaders mow down one opponent after another on the way to a perfect season.

The only down side was that Martinez and eight of his football teammates comprise most of the Crusader basketball roster. By the time they won the state football title, they only had a week to practice before the basketball season began.

But so far things have worked out very well. Muskegon Catholic is 4-0 following Tuesday’s victory over Holton, despite the lack of preseason preparation.

Martinez, a junior, is a big reason for the early success. He has scored in double figures in three of the four games, including 12 points in a one-point victory over North Muskegon on opening night, and 11 points in a three-point win over Ludington.

His best performance came in the last game before Christmas break against former River Valley rival Wyoming Tri-Unity Christian. He scored eight of his 14 points in the fourth quarter, helping the Crusaders hold on for a two-point victory.

Martinez is just one of several contributors in a balanced Crusader lineup. Erik VanFossen (22 points Tuesday against Holton), Dom Woodard, Lamar Jordan III, Tommy Scott and Nate Jones are a few of the other MCC players who have stood out this season.

So how did Martinez make the physical and mental switch from a championship football run to basketball, with only a handful of practices in between?

By never setting basketball completely aside.

“We had a long run in football and came in late, but I expected that,” Martinez said. “There were a lot of weeks during the football season when I would come in early in the morning and shoot and dribble, so I could keep refining my skills.

“I’m not surprised we’re (undefeated). In fact I expected us to play even better than we played in the first few games.”

MCC Coach Lamar Jordan recognized Martinez’ potential two years ago, and called him up to varsity for the state tournament near the end of his freshman season.

Last year Martinez became MCC’s starting point guard, due to his ball-handling skills, and averaged six points and five assists per game as a sophomore. With several older players on the team, Martinez was more than happy to set up plays and dish the ball off to other scorers.

This season he knows he has to help carry the scoring load, so he’s shooting more when opportunities present themselves.

Martinez has a strong outside shot, and also has the agility to slash through traffic and get to the bucket, according to Jordan.

“I knew coming in this year that I had to have more of an aggressive mindset,” said Martinez, who added about 15 pounds to his thin frame in the offseason and honed his skills by playing AAU basketball. “I’ve been attacking and getting more open looks and scoring. It helps the team when I’m more aggressive.”

Next year the point guard position could be inherited by a younger player, so Martinez can concentrate on getting open and scoring, according to Jordan.

“He’s a point guard with a scorer’s mentality,” the coach said. “Christian’s the type of kid I’m kind of hard on because he has so much talent. I told him early on there were going to be growing pains between us, and there would be times he wouldn’t like me very much, because I was determined to make him the best basketball player he can be.

“We are expecting even better things out of him. I think he has the talent to possibly be able to play at the next level.”