Luke Martinez takes it to the hoop. (Dan Cepeda | Star-Tribune)

Luke Martinez takes it to the hoop. (Dan Cepeda | Star-Tribune)

University of Wyoming’s Star Guard Luke Martinez Is a Leader on and off the Basketball Court

Though he was born in a North Dakota town called Rugby, it’s actually basketball that Luke Martinez excels at.
The 22-year-old, who is a Turtle Mountain Chippewa, is gearing up for his senior season with the University of Wyoming Cowboys men’s basketball team.
Martinez, a 6-foot-4 guard, wants to conclude his collegiate career on a positive note. But he hasn’t really established specific goals yet.
“We want to win,” he said in a phone interview on Oct. 4, during the Cowboys’ season-launching media day. “We definitely want to win. But I’m not too worried about that right now. We haven’t even hit practice yet.”
The Cowboys, who compete in the nine-team Mountain West Conference, will play their first exhibition game on Oct. 31 against Colorado’s Fort Lewis College Skyhawks.
Though he’s entering his final season of NCAA eligibility, Martinez, who grew up in Bismarck, N.D., is only going into his second year at Wyoming.
Before joining the Cowboys, Martinez played two years of junior college ball at North Dakota’s Williston State.
He had originally hoped to play at Wyoming during the 2010-11 season. But he broke his left elbow in practice before the season even started. Following surgery, it was decided that Martinez would sit out the remainder of the campaign in order to retain a year of eligibility.
When he eventually suited up for the Cowboys last season, he shone. Martinez started 31 of the club’s 32 games and averaged 11.8 points per contest.
Wyoming assistant coach Jeremy Shyatt believes his squad played Martinez a bit too much a year ago.
“It hurt him a little down the stretch,” Shyatt said. “In the conference games he was playing 36-37 minutes out of 40. I think that’s too much.”
Shyatt believes Martinez will continue to see his share of minutes this season. But perhaps not as many as a year ago.
“I’d be surprised if he wasn’t in the low to mid 30s,” Shyatt said of the amount of minutes Martinez is expected to see per game during the 2012-13 campaign.
Though it’s rare to hear an athlete voice a concern about too much playing time, Martinez also spoke out about this issue.
“I did play a lot of minutes,” Martinez said, adding some of his teammates had difficulties adapting to the style of a new coaching staff, which included Shyatt’s father Larry, the head coach. “I got worn down a little. Towards the end of the season I was beat up and tired. You can see that on the game films.”
Martinez said many more of his teammates now understand what the Cowboys’ coaching staff expects of them. So he doesn’t mind if he plays a bit less than he did last season.
“This year I feel there’s a lot more people that have the system down,” he said.
Martinez will be one of three seniors on the Cowboys’ roster.
“Last year his role wasn’t much of a leadership one,” Shyatt said, adding the Cowboys had six seniors then.
But it’s a role he’ll be counted on for this year.
“I think he’s a quiet assassin,” Shyatt said. “He’s not as vocal as some of the other seniors. He leads by example though. And when he does speak, people listen.”
Martinez also said he’d prefer his on-court play spark his teammates.
“I was never into the whole yelling and groaning thing,” he said.
Martinez, who is majoring in social science, is expected to graduate at the end of the school year. But he’s not certain at this point if that will also mean the end of his hoops career.
“I don’t want to think about that now,” he said of the possibility of playing the sport professionally somewhere. “But I want to keep going and playing for as long as I can.”
Martinez added he would consider taking his talents to any other country if a chance to play pro elsewhere arose.
“If something comes up, I will look at it,” he said.
Martinez would also welcome other opportunities to speak to Native youngsters. This past spring he spoke at the commencement ceremonies, addressing the graduates at Wyoming Indian High School. A day later he spoke to younger students at St. Stephens Indian School.
“That was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had and also one of the most nervous experiences of my life,” Martinez said of his speaking engagements. “I like talking to kids. I wouldn’t mind doing that again.”
Being an NCAA student-athlete, Martinez feels he could help steer some younger kids on to a right path.
“Being a basketball player you can lead them in a direction that maybe they didn’t know they could go,” he said.

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