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By Jakob Arnarsson and Francis Kennedy

For sophomore guard Alex Martin, dealing with the pressure of the playoffs, his first, will be hard.

Scoring against a defense focused on stopping him will be hard. Grabbing congested rebounds will be hard. Hitting big shots in the clutch, when his whole gym is watching and the whole team is counting on him, will be hard. Keeping Los Medanos guard Ramon Bailey from torching the Hawks will be hard.

If the Hawks win, heading out on the road to take on West Valley, the No. 1 team in California, in the second round will be hard.

But when you’ve been through what Martin has been through, what’s hard takes on a new meaning. What’s harder? Taking care of your mom while she’s battling cancer. Moving forward after she’s gone. Starting over in a new place, on a new team.

“The journey for me was pretty hard,” Martin said in an interview as the Hawks men’s basketball team prepared for the playoffs. “But I think I learned a lot of valuable lessons, just in how to carry myself as a student-athlete. I’m really happy with my decision to come to Las Positas.” 

Martin led the Hawks in both points (17.6) and rebounds (8.5) per game this season, helping lead the Hawks to the playoffs, the school’s ninth consecutive postseason. He was named 1st Team All-Coast Conference. But his accomplishments didn’t come without struggle.

Martin has gone through the trials of joining a new team and being thrust into a leadership position, all while dealing with the tragic passing of his mother. But Martin didn’t let any of it impact his work ethic. In the face of adversity, Martin showed his great mental fortitude, leading to the best season of his career.

The Hawks are going to need all of his resolve on Wednesday. Los Medanos brings its potent offense to The Nest for the first round of the NorCal Regionals and Las Positas will need its leading scorer to produce.

But more than that, they will need his leadership. As the only sophomore in the top four in points per game on the Hawks, Martin’s stable mentality helps lead the rest of his younger teammates. While he has never played on this stage before, his fortitude seems built for the pressure of the playoffs.

“I feel really confident,” Martin said. “It should be a good, competitive game. High-scoring, very fast-paced, but I think we are gonna come out with the win.”

For the regular-season finale, the Hawks hosted the San Mateo Bulldogs. It was their last chance to end the season on a high, to give the selection committee one last positive showing. But for Martin, the game meant more. It offered him an opportunity to reflect on what he’d overcome to get to this moment. 

Martin started his collegiate career with San Mateo. He averaged 10.7 points and 4.3 rebounds for the Bulldogs. So the ceremony was a full-circle moment.

“Playing my former team on Sophomore Night was pretty fun,” Martin said, “getting to see some familiar faces.”

Perhaps the emotion of the night got the better of him. Or maybe the Bulldogs were ready for their former player. Because Martin managed just four points. The Hawks won, 74-65, but Martin missed nine of his 11 shots for his lowest-scoring game of the season. 

But that wasn’t the Hawks’ final home game because Martin is an even better player with the Las Positas. Wednesday is now his final game at Las Positas since, with him leading the way, the Hawks earned a high enough seed to get one more game at The Nest. 

With Martin’s transfer to Las Positas, he also transformed his offensive approach. As a Hawk, Martin made it a point to attack the rim more than when he was a Bulldog. With San Mateo, he was 30-for-111 from three-point range (27.0%). But with the Hawks, he only took 42 3-pointers, making 11 (26.2%). His transition from behind the arc to in the paint resulted in more free-throw attempts, making him a more reliable scorer. Martin made 125 free throws this season, 67.6% of his attempts. He made a higher percentage last season at San Mateo (73.6%) but he totaled only 53 free throws.

This change in mentality led to a surge in his field goal percentage. This season with Las Positas, he shot 48.9%, way up from the 32.9% he shot as a Bulldog last season. 

Martin scored 15 or more points in 19 of his 28 games this season. He was No. 2 in Coast Conference in scoring average and No. 4 in rebounding average. Only Chabot guard Zach Broadous scored more points than Martin. 

After the Hawks opened conference play with six consecutive losses, the next five games saved their season. They won three straight over teams that previously beat them. They lost an overtime thriller to Chabot, ranked No. 20 at the time, and put up a valiant effort on the road at San Francisco, the No. 3 team in the country. In those five critical games, Martin averaged 16.8 points on 54.5 percent shooting with 33 total rebounds. 

For the first time the only Hawk who received first-team honors.

“It felt very honorable,” Martin said, “considering all the work I have put in the past two or three years to get there. And all of it paid off.”

As the only sophomore on the Hawks to average more than five points per game, Martin’s role as a leader became crucial to the team’s success. 

The team is made up of seven sophomores and nine freshmen, with the three top scorers behind Martin all being freshmen. The twin guard duo of Eliot and Elijah Mobley are the more vocal leaders of the team. Both bring endless energy to the Hawks. Elijah Mobley exudes plenty of emotion on the court, which can lead to volatility in his performances, as is often the case with freshmen. When he’s feeling it, he can light it up — as he did when he dropped 41 on Skyline. Freshman guard Sterling McClanahan doesn’t quite bring as much energy as the twins, preferring to focus on his own production.

“I view myself as a leader on the team by example,” Martin explained. “I try to lead the other young guys on the team by the way I play on the court.”  

The last time his team was in the playoffs, Martin wasn’t able to lead. He wasn’t with the team. He was with his family during the most trying of times.

He missed San Mateo’s last three regular season games, including the win in the regular-season finale that earned the Bulldogs a playoff bid as a No. 19 seed. He wasn’t there for their upset win over Gavilan in the first round. He wasn’t there when the Bulldogs’ season ended with a blowout loss at Sequoia.

Some three months after his Bulldogs were eliminated, Martin’s mother died.

Somehow, though, he found his way back here. In the playoffs. With his basketball family. On the big stage.

The hard part is over.

Jakob Arnarsson is the Sports Editor of The Express. Francis Kennedy is a staff writer. Follow them on X, formally Twitter, @JakobA2004 and @FRANCISK16571.

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