DRAPER — Jeramie and Toni Martin sat in the stands of a Junior Jazz basketball game stunned at what they saw on the court from their young daughters.
“Both (Mariah and Kemery) were just natural,” Toni Martin said of watching her two oldest daughters, then in sixth and fourth grade, play organized basketball for the first time. “They did things that blew our minds.”
And as good as their oldest daughter was, the fourth-grader — laid-back, introspective Kemery — stood out even more.
“Jeramie looked at me and said, ‘She is something special,'” Toni said. “She stood out. People would come up to us and say, ‘Your daughter is so good.'”
Kemery Martin took that natural talent and combined it with a relentless work ethic and her artist’s mind and the result is one of the best basketball players the state has produced. But what makes her this season’s Ms. Basketball isn’t just her skill in scoring points or rebounding a basketball. It was her ability to help her teammates become better individually and as a group.
That was no easy task for Martin, who transferred to Corner Canyon her junior year after playing her first two seasons at Alta with her older sister, Mariah.
“The first year, she was coming in with her past experience at Alta, and she was kind of feeling things out,” said Corner Canyon head coach Jeramy Acker. “It was a new school, new players, players she’d competed against, and she’ll be the first to tell you, she didn’t know what to expect. She was more or less trying to show her teammates what she was about, what her motives were, and I think she did a great job. But this year was all about raising the level of her teammates by seeing what they needed and what they were all about and how she could help them get better.”
The state’s second-leading scorer, Martin averaged nearly 22 points per game, but Acker said her greatest strength as a player is something a bit more rare than the ability to score.
“For Kem, it’s her pure athleticism and creativity,” he said. “She has a super smooth release, it’s quick, and she’s had it ever since she was a freshman. She has faster, quicker movements, but her strength is her creativity in the air; her ability to adjust.”
In fact, the first year Martin played for Acker, he didn’t even assign her a position because he wanted her to have the freedom to play in whatever role helped the team win.
“I just called her an athlete,” he said of her junior season. “This year, I gave her the title of point guard, but last year I was moving her around all over the place.”
Martin’s mother describes her as “an old soul.”
“She’s probably the most easygoing person ever,” Toni Martin said. “She has a personality people are just drawn to. ... She is an incredible artist. She draws and paints, and she just has a very creative mind.”
Martin was highly recruited, and the pressure created by that opportunity can be difficult for some young athletes to manage.
“Her maturity,” Toni Martin said of what surprised her most about how Kemery dealt with the recruiting process. “With all the stress — coaches, phone calls blowing up — how she handled herself all the way through it. The way she put thought into the process. She didn’t just want to go to a top-notch school. She wanted to have a really good relationship with the coach. ... She wanted to go somewhere that she knew she could have a positive impact.”
Martin announced she was staying close to home when she chose Utah, a program on the rise in the Pac-12.
Martin’s leadership style was one of quiet friendship and an impeccable example. Toni said she liked to find girls who were quiet or less experienced and work with them, offer advice and support.
Acker said a preseason conversation she had with teammate Jaeden Vaifanua was key in how the post player rebounded from a hamstring injury.
“She just had little conversations with her where she said, ‘Trust me, we’ll get there,'” Acker said. “(Vaifanua) really took that and ran with it.”
That approach helped Corner Canyon to a co-region title and a second-place finish in the 5A state tournament. While reporters and fans discuss her abilities, teammates and coaches describe Martin as “always smiling and having fun.”4 comments on this story
“She’s super positive,” Acker said. “When she first came to us, I wanted to get to know her as a person. I only knew her as a competitor. The thing that stood out to me is what gets her out of bed in the morning is the love of the game. She loves basketball. Other players might have various answers, but for Kemery, it’s she really enjoys playing, she enjoys competing. She takes opportunities to learn and turns them into opportunities in the future.”
In fact, Acker said Martin taught him something valuable.
“I’m a pretty serious person,” he said. “When kids are messing around, it gets under my skin. I feel like commitment is shown by being serious, take every moment and game seriously. But she’s shown me there is a right time and a right way to have some fun. You can be highly effective in achieving goals, and still have a lot of fun doing it.”