It was from the stands of Los Angeles’ high school gyms that Remy Martin received his greatest basketball education.
Such was the routine Martin and his father, Sam, repeated many weekends as the floppy-hair point guard grew up in the city: The two would hop into Sam’s Firebird, crisscross the Southland, and seek out the best prep prospects for Remy to mold himself after.
They saw local legends, such as Stanley Johnson at Santa Ana Mater Dei and Jrue Holiday at Campbell Hall. They went to tournaments to watch teams from out of town and out of state. They studied future first-round NBA draft picks and soon-to-be NCAA stars.
They took in L.A. basketball at its best, teaching Remy — now a junior at Arizona State and a first-team All-Pac-12 selection — lessons he would never forget.
“Those were the best moments, man,” Martin said from a plush chair in the lobby of a Marina del Rey hotel during the Sun Devils’ recent L.A. trip.
“That’s what really helped me become the player that I wanted to be. It was really cool. Those moments when you see high school players, when you see college players doing what you always dreamt about, it was pretty cool.”
Martin paused, reflecting upon his position in the city’s basketball community. “Now that I’m in that situation,” he said, “it’s kind of surreal.”
College basketball hasn’t been short on Southern California-born stars this season. Chino Hills center Onyeka Onkongwu has probably cemented his status as an NBA lottery pick during his freshman season at USC. San Bernardino native Matt Bradley has been a pleasant surprise at California. Kihei Clark (Woodland Hills Taft) remains one of the nation’s best ball-movers at Virginia, where last season he helped the Cavaliers win the NCAA championship.
But no L.A. product has been as productive as Martin, the Burbank-raised Sierra Canyon alumnus having his best college season yet.
The 6-foot, 170-pound playmaker is the top player on an ASU team likely heading to its third straight NCAA tournament, a feat no other Pac-12 school has accomplished in the last three years. His 19.1 points per game ranked second in the league during the regular season and tops among Power Five players from his home state.
Martin’s impact as a full-court pressing, dribble-drive penetrating, ball-dominant point guard (he also averaged more than three rebounds and four assists per game) make him one of the sport’s most entertaining attractions.
Even ASU coach Bobby Hurley, the two-time national champion at Duke and all-time NCAA assists leader, is sometimes in awe.
“Last year, I thought in the last month of Pac-12 [play] he was the best player in the conference,” said Hurley, whose Sun Devils (20-11) are the No. 3 seed in this week’s Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. “He’s just built on that.”
Martin began playing basketball on the courts of Highland Park in Atwater Village, where his dad remembers him being so excited to shoot, he sometimes forgot to dribble. By middle school, Martin joined a club team coached by Clark’s father and started concentrating on the sport more seriously.
That’s when Sam and his son began making their weekend trips across the city. Soon after, Martin’s development blossomed.
“Anybody around L.A., a local kid who was a star, we went and watched them,” Sam said.
Holiday, a first-round draft pick after playing one season at UCLA and now a starting guard for the New Orleans Pelicans, was one of Martin’s most important influences. When he was 12, Martin remembers watching one of Holiday’s high school games. Near the end of a blowout, Holiday began taking shots with his weaker left hand, just for fun.
Martin’s thought: “That’s crazy.”
When he stopped by his grandmother’s house later that night, Martin went out to her backyard court — a concrete surface lined by a white fence, Martin’s favorite spot to practice — and worked on his left-handed stroke too.
“That’s when I knew, ‘OK, this is what this kid wants to do,’” Sam said.
Their trips continued, with Sam emphasizing players’ mind-sets as much as their talent. “Watch how they carry themselves on the court,” Sam would tell Remy, always a somewhat undersized player himself. “That’s how you’re supposed to act.”
Sam remembers another Campbell Hall player in particular. Austin McBroom wasn’t a high-profile recruit like Martin’s other role models, overlooked because of his 6-foot stature. During games, however, the guard was impossible to miss.
“He never got mad, always was having fun, always was smiling, always happy,” Sam said. “I used to tell [Remy], ‘Look at that guy. That’s how you carry yourself. That’s the passion you’ve got to play with.’”
The message stuck. At Sierra Canyon, Martin made himself a defensive menace. He happily shared the ball on a team that featured future first-round pick Marvin Bagley and current UCLA forward Cody Riley.
Though he never attracted serious interest from UCLA (one of his dream schools, his dad said), Martin found a perfect home at ASU under Hurley, being chosen as the Pac-12’s sixth man of the year as a freshman. He moved into the starting lineup last season.
This year, Martin has showcased his scoring touch as ASU’s primary point-getter, relying on pull-up jumpers, darting drives to the rim, and turnover-generated transition buckets to twice win the Pac-12’s player of the week award.
“All year, as we were trying to find our identity and get more guys playing well, he just put us on his back,” Hurley said after Martin’s 30-point game at UCLA last month. “He’s capable of having scoring games like [that] just about every night. He’s been playing at an elite level.”
During that game at Pauley Pavilion, faces from Martin’s past populated the stands. Several dozen family members attended. The founder of Sierra Canyon sat several rows behind ASU’s bench. Martin’s mother, Maryann, came decked in ASU-branded swag.
Then there was dad, of course, watching from the same sideline vantage point he and Remy used to share.
“He’s so focused, so locked in,” Sam said. “He knows where he wants to go.”