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Remy Martin completes explosive Kansas team armed to make run at 2022 NCAA Tournament title – CBS Sports

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Remy Martin had done everything on a basketball court. Well, everything if you consider starting 83 games at Arizona State over four years, playing in multiple NCAA Tournaments and twice being named first-team all-Pac 12. That included becoming the conference’s sixth man of the year. 

But there was something missing, as there is for a lot of grad transfers. There was certainly something missing at Kansas when Martin was looking for a fit after leaving ASU. His presence might be the difference in the mighty Jayhawks being in their first Sweet 16 in four years this weekend in the Midwest Regional in Chicago. 

“What I thought we needed last year was a boost of speed,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “The team we had last year wasn’t athletic and explosive enough to make a run this year if it stayed status quo.”

Martin, a 6-foot super senior, was supposed to be that shot of basketball espresso. Until he wasn’t. After scoring 15 points in an easy season-opening win against Michigan State and averaging 12 points through the first 10 games, Martin fell off. The Big 12’s Preseason Player of the Year went 2 ½ months between double-digit games while hampered by a knee injury and crisis of confidence.

As the knee healed and the resolution grew, Self gave Martin more playing time beginning earlier this month heading into the Big 12 Tournament. Martin had been such a non-factor for such a long time, his return was like a late-season free-agent signing. In the last four games Martin has averaged 23 minutes and more than 14 points per game, numbers he hasn’t produced since December. Against Creighton in Saturday’s second-round victory, he might have been the difference between winning and losing, scoring a season-high 20 to go with seven rebounds and four assists. 

“We’re a different team with him,” Self said. 

Different because Martin plays downhill. He certainly has no fear about shooting, but he adds another dimension to the entire team. Martin has a more varied game than starting point guard Dejuan Harris. He’s a force who looks for his shot, complimenting national player of the year finalist Ochai Agbaji. It’s just that it’s been a while since he’s been able to do it. 

“I didn’t know Remy could dunk a basketball until today,” Self said following the 83-56 first-round win over Texas Southern.  

Creighton had played Arizona State in 2021 with Martin scoring seven points and turning it over four times in 36 minutes. 

“His growth and improvement from the guy that was at Arizona State to the guy that’s playing now is night and day,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “Like, his engagement defensively compared to how he defended at Arizona State and the unselfish nature of the way he’s playing is totally different than the guy we played against when he was at Arizona State.”

Everyone knew Martin could play given his Sun Devil history. It was a question of getting on the court when the knee wouldn’t let him. The injury was originally diagnosed as a bone bruise suffered Dec. 29 against Nevada. During a court-storming following a loss at Texas on Feb. 7, Martin’s knee got “bumped,” according to Self. That resulted in more time on the bench.  

Lately, the compliments have been lining up behind the spunky guard like favorable movie reviews. 

“His confidence never left him at all, his spirit,” teammate Jalen Wilson said. “Whether he was playing or not he was the first one off the bench to help us coaching as much as he could.” 

“His speed gives a different dimension,” teammate Christian Braun said. “Throughout the year we had Dejuan. He’s steady. He doesn’t turn the ball over. But when Remy comes off the bench he gives an extra spark. His energy really helps all of us throughout the game.”

“We forgot Remy was one of the [best] point guards in the country coming into the transfer portal,” Harris said. “So, you know, he gives a lot of energy. And then he comes in and takes a lot of pressure off me off the ball too.” 

“[With] Remy out there you can run a bad offense and you can make a shot,” Self said. “Great teams all have players like that. Unless you’re just so ultra-talented at every spot.”

And Kansas isn’t, by the way. The lingering effect of the ongoing NCAA investigation may have played a part. KU is always in the run for the nation’s top talent, but perhaps what they’ve been lacking in recent years is that “ultra-talented” five-star. (Next year’s recruiting class does include a couple of top-25 prospects.) But anyone could have had Agbaji coming out of high school. Literally, anyone. In the second semester of his senior year at Oak Park High School in suburban Kansas City, Missouri, Agbaji had no Power Five offers.

Braun remains KU’s best shooter — the embodiment of that rosy-cheeked, iron-willed player from in-state who won three state titles in suburban Overland Park, Kansas. Post David McCormack seems like a one-trick pony, space-eater in the middle. 

Agbaji is a consensus All-American. Braun averages almost 15 a game. The 6-10 McCormack (24 rebounds in the last three games) is the kind of brawny big you want as a defender around the basket in the tournament. Put them all together and Self says he was wrong about this team not being athletic and explosive enough.

“We are fairly athletic and the guys had done pretty well when Remy wasn’t in there,” the coach said. “The pieces have all improved and gotten better. Remy gives us a chance at little things, like getting open late game when a team is pressing. You don’t have to run something to get open. Just, ‘Remy go get open.’ Just a different element that we didn’t have before. 

Martin is going to be a tough matchup for as long as Kansas lasts in the tournament. Or maybe he is the best reason Kansas will last in the tournament. Those four years between a Sweet 16 berth — and the last Final Four in 2018 — seem like a lifetime here at KU. 

“When a guy is that locked in, it just takes one little moment or glimpse to get him back to what he was,” Wilson said. “Now you see exactly who Remy is.”

With him, then, who exactly are the Jayhawks?

“I just like wearing this uniform,” Martin said. “I love everything about it. I just love playing the game itself, so I’m just happy.”

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