After blocking distractions, URI's Hassan Martin back to blocking shots

Rhode Island lost its best player, guard E.C. Matthews, to a season-ending knee injury 10 minutes into its opener. And as difficult as that has been for the rest of the team, it has been especially tough for junior forward Hassan Martin.

“It impacted me a lot,” he said.

They are classmates and friends — like Mario and Luigi, Martin told before the season. He had never before taken the court at URI without Matthews, who last season averaged 16.9 points a game to lead the Rams.

Now he was gone. There figured to be an adjustment period, and there has been.

“It took, like, 10 days for me to get over it,” Martin said.

The Rams (6-4) have spread the wealth in Matthews’ absence. All five starters are averaging between 10.8 and 11.8 points heading into Tuesday’s game at Old Dominion on ASN.

They have also redoubled their efforts on defense, where Martin’s presence is most keenly felt. He supplements his averages of 11.2 points and 5.6 rebounds with 2.6 blocked shots a game, which is tied for 20th in Division I.

The 6-7 Martin, who last year averaged 3.12 blocks (sixth-most nationally), understands that the impact of a rim protector can be measured as much in adrenaline as sheer numbers.

“They’ve got to feed off my intensity,” he said of his teammates.

Certainly he feeds off it himself.

“If I get a blocked shot, the next play I’ll probably get a dunk,” he said. “That’s what gets my juices running.”

He had six rejections in a loss to Valparaiso, five in a rout of Rider, four in a victory over Holy Cross. Still, he’s not satisfied.

“I’ve got to do more, honestly,” he said. “I’m not playing bad, but I’m not playing to my full potential right now. … I’ve definitely got to rebound more. The blocked shots are there. I’ve got to score inside more. I’ve just got to play with more effort. I’m not disappointed with the way my season is going. I’ve just got to pick it up. We’re only 10 games in, so I think I’ll be all right.”

Martin, who hails from Staten Island, is the third-oldest of seven boys born to Kareem and Sharice. Hassan’s dad played high school hoops. So too did his uncles.

His oldest brother, Phil, played at Cal-Riverside and later in the NBA Development League. His second-oldest brother, Kareem Jr., plays at Grand View University, an NAIA school in Des Moines, Iowa. And one of his younger brothers, Malik, is a sophomore guard at Hassan’s alma mater, Curtis High School; he has already been offered a scholarship by URI coach Danny Hurley.

Hassan’s first love was actually football. Played wide receiver growing up, and was a varsity starter his sophomore year at Curtis, while playing JV hoops.

Then he grew four inches to his current height, and his priorities changed.

“I got better and I got more athletic,” he said, “and I just thought, ‘Hey I actually like it.’ ”

He dropped football, only to see a promising junior basketball season end after nine games when he tore a tendon in his hand. Then came the summer, and AAU ball.

“That’s when I blew up,” he said.

He chose Rhode Island over Saint Joseph’s and Providence, and his first season made the Atlantic-10’s All-Freshman Team. In 2014-15 he was an all-conference second-teamer and a member of the all-defensive team, after becoming the second player in URI history to block 100 shots in a season.

And this year he was named a preseason all-A-10 first-teamer.

“There’s definitely pressure,” he said. “There’s going to be pressure. I’m a junior now. I’ve got to be able to handle it.”

Especially with his buddy sidelined.

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