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Martin’s Benchmark Came as a Reserve : Basketball: UCLA point guard returns to starting lineup after growing up while sitting down.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

After starting 87 consecutive games for UCLA since early in his freshman season, senior guard Darrick Martin was bounced at the start of the season to make room for sophomore Shon Tarver.

Seething at the unexpected demotion, Martin nevertheless held his tongue and adapted well to his new role, averaging 23 minutes, eight points and 5.5 assists in four games as a reserve.

Now, because of a hand injury that will keep fellow senior Gerald Madkins sidelined for at least two weeks, Martin is a starter again for the third-ranked Bruins--and much happier for it.

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But, looking back, the reluctant reserve acknowledged that he enjoyed some aspects of being a substitute.

“I was able to change the complexion of the games,” said Martin, who made 72.2% of his shots as a reserve. “I’d come in there with fresh legs against guys who were a little tired, a little winded. With my speed and quickness, if we were up six, I was able to help push the lead up to 12 or 14.

“That was kind of fun because you could see (anxiety) in the eyes of the guys I was playing against. It was like, ‘Here comes the pressure. He’s going to push it.’ ”

Martin, though, is delighted to be back among the starters. He didn’t understand the reason for his demotion and never fully accepted it.

He planned to meet with Coach Jim Harrick before the start of Pacific 10 Conference play next month, perhaps to ask to be reinstated as a starter.

And he might have found Harrick agreeable to the idea.

“I might have eventually come back to starting him anyway because he makes our team flow a little bit better,” Harrick said. “Certainly, he makes our break a lot better.”

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Harrick and Martin haven’t always agreed on Martin’s role. Harrick has always wanted the successor to Pooh Richardson to be more a distributor, less a scorer.

But Martin has never been content to be a playmaker only.

“I don’t want to be a robot out there, passing and passing,” said Martin, who scored only four points but had seven assists and no turnovers Friday night in his first start, a 106-80 victory over Loyola Marymount. “I don’t want teams to play me like they played Mark Wade when he was with (Las) Vegas, where they laid off him and it was four on five. I want to be able to score enough to relieve some of the pressure on the other guys.”

Because of the conflict, Martin often caught himself looking over his shoulder toward the bench.

“I was thinking out there instead of just reacting and playing,” he said. “When I do that, I’m not a very good player.”

Last season ended in disappointment for the Bruins, who were upset by Penn State, 74-69, in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Martin was chastised for not providing more stability as the team’s point guard.

He had five assists and four turnovers against the Nittany Lions, missed eight of nine shots and scored only three points.

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What’s more, he didn’t get the ball into the hands of the right players. UCLA’s high-scoring forwards, Don MacLean and Tracy Murray, touched the ball fewer than 10 times between them in the second half.

“If the point guard is shaky, the whole team is kind of shaky,” said Martin, who might have taken the loss harder than any of his teammates. “And I didn’t think I was very stable when we needed to be stable.”

But maybe that’s because he was unsure of what Harrick expected of him and afraid of how his coach might react if he faltered.

At the urging of his mother, he considered transferring to Nevada Las Vegas last summer.

He decided against it, but then came his demotion last month--totally unexpected, Martin said.

“I was more mad than hurt,” Martin said, recalling his emotions on the night he was told, a few minutes before the start of an exhibition game, that Tarver would replace him.

“Maybe if he’d come to me earlier that month, or earlier that week and told me he was going to start Shon, it would have been easier to accept.”

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Harrick said he wanted more consistency from his backcourt. He said that Tarver, who is averaging 14.4 points, was too good to keep out of the lineup. And he said that he still considered Martin a starter.

“He just doesn’t start the games,” Harrick said.

Martin bit his lip.

“A couple of times I really wanted to say something to show him how I felt,” Martin said. “But a sign of maturity is being able to deal with adversity. I caught myself and said, ‘That’s not the best thing to do because all you’ll do is hurt yourself in the long run.’ So, I just dealt with it like a man.”

Three days after Martin’s demotion, UCLA opened the season against Indiana in the Hall of Fame game at Springfield, Mass. Martin had cooled only slightly.

“I had accepted it a little bit more, but I was still mad and I was still out to prove something to him, so I think that motivation helped me,” he said. “I wanted to prove to Coach Harrick that I should be starting.”

He provided 10 points and five assists in 25 minutes. He played so well in the first half that he started the second and helped expose the Hoosiers’ inferior athleticism.

He had 11 assists in 20 minutes against Pepperdine. Against San Diego State, he scored 15 points, making all three of his three-point shots, five of six shots overall.

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Harrick lauded his attitude, saying that Martin had displayed a new maturity in so easily adapting to his role as a reserve. “I’ve just been patient, figuring maybe he’d go back,” Martin said. “And if he didn’t, fine. If he did, fine, too.

“I was just going to make the most out of my senior year because I want to have a chance to get to the Final Four, and my goal of playing at the next level depends a lot on how the team does.”

Now that he’s a starter again, Martin doesn’t plan to relinquish the job easily.

“I’m going to work that much harder to show that I deserved to be starting at the beginning of the year,” he said.

It might have pained him, Martin said, but he is better for the experience of the last month.

“It’s helped me become a man, to see how things are going to be in the real world,” he said.

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