The Bryant Hornets basketball team was coming off two seasons in which they’d won more games than any since the 1980’s. They made the Class 7A State semifinals in 2012 before getting knocked out by Bobby Portis (University of Arkansas, Chicago Bulls) and the Hall Warriors. In 2013, they reached the State quarterfinals and got knocked out by KeVaughn Allen (Florida University) and the North Little Rock Charging Wildcats.
But a lot of those guys graduated after the 2013 season. Looking for scoring help for 2013-14, Bryant head coach Mike Abrahamson decided to pull up a couple of freshmen. One of them was a talented long-range shooter named Romen Martin.
“It was scary,” he recalled on Wednesday. “I thought that he was just joking. I didn’t think it was serious. And I didn’t think I’d do that good.”
“That was a year that I thought we might need a little help,” acknowledged Abrahamson. “I knew his potential and I thought that would be good for him and that would be good for a program long term. And it worked out.”
Indeed so. In four seasons on the varsity, Martin amassed 1,330 points, helped the team win 65 games, advance to State each year and, in 2016, reaching the semifinals again by stunning the top-ranked Fayetteville Bulldogs, who were heavy favorites to win the State crown behind Peyton Willis (Vanderbilt University). The team made it to the second round this season and for the second year in a row got knocked out by the eventual champion.
“I think we were different than all the other teams because we all really liked each other and enjoyed each other’s company,” Martin said of his senior teammates who played such a big role in the Hornets’ success. “We all wanted to be our best.”
Martin’s point total may be a school record for a career. Unfortunately, individual stats over the years are apparently gone.
Nonetheless, the high school career of Romen Martin, the son of Ronnie Martin and Roberta Martin Jones, came to an apex on Wednesday when he signed a letter of intent to continue his education and his basketball career at Harding University in Searcy.
“I couldn’t have picked a better place for Romen to go,” said Abrahamson. “He’s going to a great school, a great program with a coach and a staff and a faculty there that’s going to help take care of him, help him grow and nurture him.
“Harding is very selective about who they recruit,” he added. “You have to be a certain type of person with a certain type of character as well as being a good basketball player. That’s why I’m so thrilled because of how selective they are with who they recruit, that they would take Rome because they see him how I see him and how his family sees him and how his teammates see him. It’s very rewarding with how this has turned out.”
“My coaches from my summer league team, they both played for Harding so I guess they told the coach about me,” Martin related. “They came to watch me play and I guess they were impressed.”
He said he also considered UA-Monticello, Lyon College, Henderson State University, Ouachita Baptist University and Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
“I felt more comfortable there,” he said of Harding. “I felt home. And I know I’m going to grow on and off the court, become a better person because I know basketball doesn’t last forever.”
Of his visit to the campus, Martin said, “It was perfect. It was everything I dreamed of. There’s like 8,000 students there but it felt like everybody was like, in with each other. I liked the scenery. I liked everything. It was nice.”
Martin wasn’t the first freshman to play varsity basketball. That was Cameron Murray, who went to be a star football player, signing with Arizona State. Murray came up to the varsity at the end of the freshman team’s season.
But Martin was the first (along with Desmond Duckworth who later transferred to North Little Rock) to start a season on the varsity team. A four-year contributor who played quite a bit as a freshman, Martin was named all-conference his sophomore, junior and senior seasons. He also was named to the all-State Tournament team as a junior after he scored 22 points in the win over Fayetteville.
“I don’t know if there’s another person in the history of Bryant High School that can say that,” Abrahamson said of Martin’s four years. “That’s quite an achievement. He has been a nightmare for opponents. There’s lots of people across the state that are happy to be done playing against him, especially the ones in our conference. To them, it probably seemed like he’d never leave.
“To me, it’s bittersweet,” the coach added. “It’s a happy day. I’m happy for him, the opportunity that he gets. It’s going to be so good for him. Of course, it’s a little sad. I almost don’t know at this point how to operate without him. He’s been around so long for me and done so much for our program.
“He has been an all-around great player for us,” he asserted. “He’s been a leader, a model student and citizen and someone for my own kids to look up to. So, I appreciate that.”
Asked what the most important thing he learned since his freshman season, Martin said, “How to be a leader. How to control the game without just scoring.”
“It’s been very rewarding to watch his growth,” Abrahamson said. “He started off as just a 3-point shooter for us on varsity. And he was really not very good defensively. He became a really good off-the-ball defender then he became a driver offensively. Then he became a good on-the-ball defender. Then he became sometimes the guy we put on the other team’s best guy.
“He played a lot of minutes for us and we asked a lot of him,” he added. “He gave us everything he had for four years.”
As he developed, Martin became the go-to shooter, a clutch player.
“He’s hit some big, big shots over his time,” Abrahamson acknowledged. “A few that come to mind, he hit a big 3 in the fourth quarter against Fayetteville last year that seemed to end all hopes for Fayetteville winning that game. Then there was the 3-point shot that he hit against Central here this season where we lost on the buzzer-beater.
“But just so clutch,” he continued. “The environment in our gym that night was amazing and it was especially amazing after he hit that shot. Also, when we came back against (defending State champion) Cabot at home this year, which had another great environment in our gym. We were losing the whole game. Rome hit a 3 from the corner over by our locker room and weight room that put us up for good in that game. That sent the gym into a frenzy as well.
“He’s just done that over and over,” the coach stated. “It’s so valuable when you have someone that can do stuff like that. It takes pressure of your teammates. You came to expect it from him. It’s going to be tough filling his shoes.”
So how does a player become that guy? Martin said it was a lot of hard work and a lot of shooting.
“A lot of shots under the gun,” he explained. “I stay after (practice) a lot and shoot, every day.
“If I miss,” he said of those late-game bombs, “then they wouldn’t be mad at me. But I’d be mad at myself for missing. I’d go out and practice that shot.”
Martin said he plans to study Business or Finance at Harding.