MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – In 1971, Middle Tennessee State University started construction on a brand new, 11,500-seat basketball arena to house the Blue Raiders’ budding men’s basketball program (the women’s program didn’t start until 1975).
To help make the first year in their new home the grandest it could be, legendary MT coach Jimmy Earle knew he had to have a terrific recruiting class for the 1971-72 season. That way, when the freshmen from that class were ready to join the varsity squad in 1972-73 – freshmen weren’t allowed to play varsity in their first year at that time – they’d be primed for the first season in the new arena.
Earle’s recruiting class in 1971 revolved really around one key player: Indiana native Jimmy Martin, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard who averaged more than 30 points per game for Tri Central High School and was also being recruited by new Indiana University head coach Bob Knight.
Martin would turn into one of the first stars on the Murphy Center hardwood. Now, more than four decades later, he’ll enter a different building on campus where he’ll be remembered forever: the Blue Raiders Sports Hall of Fame.
“Once they showed me the drawings of Murphy Center, it was a no-brainer; I’d never played in a place that big,” he said. “There were a number of places I could have went … but I’m glad I chose Middle Tennessee.”
Martin’s scoring ability was evident during his season on MT’s freshman team in 1971-72.
He averaged more than 20 points per contest as the team dominated their competition, losing, as Martin remembered, only one or two games the entire year.
The next season, Martin was ready to take his game to the varsity level. First, though, he’d have to make a position change.
“[Earle] had to sell me on being a point guard,” he said. “It was all about me, me, me and scoring a lot of points. It was hard for me to get through my head that it was more about the team and not me, but once I was able to absorb that and understand … that became my role.”
Standing at 6-foot-5, Martin was at that time a bit of a unique point guard because of his size, something that intrigued Earle. However, Martin had never played point guard; he’d never had to run a team on offense and defense and focus primarily on distributing instead of scoring.
With some coaxing and a lot of practice, Martin started to figure out the position as his sophomore season got underway. He gradually got better at passing and running the team, and helped the team go from 12 wins in 1972-73 to an 18-8 record the following year.
Then, it all came together in 1974-75.
As a senior, Martin had point guard figured out, and it showed. He was credited with 4.5 assists per game alongside 11.9 points per outing, career highs in both, and led the team to a 23-5 overall record and 12-2 mark in the Ohio Valley Conference, capturing the program’s first conference title.
The Blue Raiders would go on to lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Oregon State in their first-ever appearance, but the seeds were laid for later success, most notably in the Murphy Center where crowds were sometimes over capacity.
“We were bringing more than 10,000 people in there and had it packed a few times,” Martin said. “It was something that I’ll always cherish.”
Martin finished his career as the program’s leader in career assists with 231, and he still ranks in the top 15 today.
Needless to say, the shooting guard from Indiana who didn’t know how to guide an offense nor pass turned into one of Middle Tennessee’s all-time great point guards and leaders.
Now, the arena he helped open will be just a few yards from where his name will be forever enshrined in the Blue Raiders Sports Hall of Fame.
“I only wish some of our teammates who’re gone could be here to experience it with me,” Martin said. “God has blessed my family and blessed me with great friends, and I’ve met some wonderful, wonderful people at Middle Tennessee. There were so many people who helped this happen.”
This is part of a series as we introduce the 2019 class of the Blue Raider Sports Hall of Fame.
Josh Vardaman is the staff writer for goblueraiders.com. Follow him on Twitter @J_Vardaman
and also follow @MTAthletics for more on the Blue Raiders.