Noie: Hoops career complete, Scott Martin joins Notre Dame men's coaching staff

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Nobody saw it coming, but when past and present members of the Notre Dame men’s basketball program gathered on campus in May for a former player’s wedding, another marriage was taking shape.

Rings and vows weren’t exchanged. Invitations not needed. Neither were tuxedos and ties. It just sort of happened.

As a result, former Irish swingman Scott Martin enjoyed a honeymoon first few days this week as the program’s new development and recruiting coordinator. Martin replaces former video coordinator — and former Irish guard — Eric Atkins who left to become an assistant coach at Howard University.

On Wednesday, Martin still was getting used to his digs in the new Rolfs Hall. His key card has yet to work. He hadn’t yet hit the smoothie bar in the building’s basement. He didn’t quite know how everything ran from a program standpoint, but couldn’t wait to get going with his first job in the game following five years of playing it overseas.

“I’m pretty green,” the 30-year-old admitted. “There’s still a lot to learn, for sure. I’m trying to soak it all in and find out how I add value.

“It was kind of weird how it all went down.”

It went down as Martin was one of several former players on campus in spring for the wedding of former Irish small forward Zach Hillesland. That’s when the hiring wheels were unintentionally put into motion. Somewhere along the way, Martin and Irish coach Mike Brey had a conversation that went deeper than what Martin had been up to, how his family was, the sort of stuff the coach and his former players often discuss.

Having spent the previous eight months as a financial planner with Merrill Lynch near his hometown of Valparaiso, Martin mentioned that the business world wasn’t really for him. He was looking to do something else, maybe finally explore that coaching path.

That piqued Brey’s interest.

“Yeah, we’ll talk about it,” Brey told Martin.

Deeper into the weekend, talk between coach and player again turned to a basketball future after Brey said something that had Martin confused.

“He was like, ‘Well, we’re not in a big rush to fill the position,’” Martin remembered.

What position? Martin has stayed pretty plugged in with the program over the years. He knows who’s coming, who’s going, what’s happening. He hadn’t heard anything from any former player, including director of basketball operations Harold Swanagan, about any staff change. Swanagan wasn’t going anywhere. Neither were any of Brey’s assistant coaches, which include former players Ryan Ayers and Ryan Humphrey.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Martin told Brey.

“He was like, ‘What are you talking about?’” Martin said Brey said. “I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ It was one of those things.’’

Following that who’s-on-first exchange, Brey explained that Atkins, after three seasons as video coordinator, was leaving to become an assistant coach. Brey originally pondered filling the position with a former basketball manager, but the thought of adding a former player, someone he’d long seen as an eventual coach, was intriguing.

A week after Hillesland’s wedding, Martin and Brey again met.

“He was like, ‘Well, if you want it, let’s do it,’” Martin said. “I was like, ‘Well, yeah, I want it.’”

Back for good

Martin’s addition to Brey’s staff has been six seasons in the making. The first Notre Dame student-athlete granted a sixth season of eligibility, Martin limped away 18 games into that sixth season in 2012-13. He tried to come back late in the year. He practiced. He went through warm-ups before games. But his reconstructed left knee never did respond the way he wanted it, the way he needed it.

Brey’s original blueprint had Martin serving as a graduate assistant in 2013-14. But the more Martin rested his knee through the winter, and then into the spring and summer of 2013, the better he felt. He wanted to play. His coach coaxed him to chase it.

“The way it ended (at Notre Dame), he said to me, ‘You need to go and play and end it right,’” Martin said. “‘Go have a healthy year, go have fun and then we’ll figure it out.’

“Problem is, I had too much fun and I kept playing and playing.”

One year turned into two, which turned into three more. Martin spent four of his five professional seasons playing in England. He averaged 14.8 points and 7.5 rebounds in 35.5 games per season as Newcastle won three British Basketball League championships. For the first time since high school, Martin wasn’t hurt. He played. A lot. He had fun. A lot.

“I left this place and got healthy again,” Martin said. “Go figure.”

Being healthy allowed Martin to realize how much he loved the game, and how he missed that love stuck so much in the training room. He started all 84 games of his Notre Dame career, and earned team most valuable player honors following the 2011-12 season, but his knees always seemed an issue.

“When you’re injured, it just beats you down,” he said. “I think I spent more time rehabbing than I did playing. When you actually get a chance to play and things are going well, it always makes things better.”

A different direction

Following four years in England, Martin played 2017-18 season in the Czech Republic. Again, he had fun. Again, he was healthy, averaging 11.3 points and 6.9 rebounds in 22 games. He fell during a late-season practice and tore his meniscus. Again. Team doctors wanted to do surgery in the Czech Republic. Martin balked. He preferred it be done closer to home with Notre Dame team orthopedic surgeon Dr. Michael Yergler. The meniscus was repaired last summer. Again. His first post-op thought? That’s it.

“I kind of decided, I’m not going to do this anymore,” he said. “I want to be able to walk when I’m 50.”

Martin went to work for Merrill Lynch. For a while, he loved it. Still kind of does. He worked close to home, which allowed him to be around his parents and his younger brother. He worked with good people, had reasonable hours. Had a relatively normal life after basketball.

But ….

“It just wasn’t my thing,” he said.

Martin longed to get back into basketball.

“Scott has a great feel for the game and our program,” Brey said in a release announcing his hiring. “He brings a knowledge of our program to this job, as well as strong communication skills and a great basketball IQ”

Martin’s job at Notre Dame includes many of the responsibilities it did when Atkins did it, but with a twist. He’s still in charge of video and splicing together cut-ups for the coaching staff. He’ll also serve as the point man for the program’s recruiting. Who should the Irish target? What other schools are on a prospect’s wish list? How’s the player progressing in high school? Then when a prospect makes an official visit, Martin will handle itineraries. What time are they arriving? Where are they staying? Where will they go? Who will they meet with?

Those responsibilities were previously handled by the assistant coaches.

“It’s a lot of organization,” Martin said. “A lot of it is learning the ropes and the way we recruit.”

Martin will lean on Ayers and Humphrey and Swanagan associate head coach Rod Balanis to get up to speed on how everything flows, how the inner workings of the program runs. He’ll also lean on Brey, someone he’s long considered a mentor. Something about their relationship clicked when it was player and coach.

“We kind of speak the same language,” Martin said. “Coach has always said that coaching would be a good thing for me. When he says something, you believe it. It gives me a little extra confidence that I can do this.”

Former Notre Dame swingman Scott Martin enjoyed five relatively injury-free years of professional basketball overseas. After a year in private business, Martin missed the game and recently joined coach Mike Brey’s staff.
Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, and former player Scott Martin ‘’kind of speak the same language,’’ Martin said.