Home Uncategorized Iowa’s Kate Martin has many roles: Caitlin Clark’s sidekick, 3-year captain, Final...

Iowa’s Kate Martin has many roles: Caitlin Clark’s sidekick, 3-year captain, Final Four chaser


IOWA CITY, Iowa — Kate Martin has carried several nicknames over her six years with Iowa women’s basketball, but one description stands out above all to fellow senior Gabbie Marshall.

“She’s been my rock,” Marshall said. “I’ve never met a better leader than her.”

Every Iowa player says she leans on Martin throughout challenging moments or when she needs a dose of truth. She’s supportive, passionate and disciplined. They say nobody has worn the title “team captain” better than Martin, who has served in that role the last three seasons. No player has garnered as much trust from the coaching staff or has earned the respect of her teammates as Martin. That includes superstar batterymate Caitlin Clark.

“She’s somebody that’s wired the same way as me,” Clark said. “At times that means me and Kate butt heads, but at the end of the day, we know how much we love each other. We step off the court, and it doesn’t matter, we just make each other better.”

As Martin and Iowa’s other senior teammates prepare for Monday night’s NCAA Tournament second-round game against West Virginia, thoughts swirl from how their Iowa journey began to how there’s no time for reflection. Admittedly non-emotional, Martin collected her thoughts before her final pregame interview in Iowa City and paused. Then she smiled and conquered the moment with stoicism.

For the ultimate Hawkeye, who grew up with an Iowa women’s basketball poster on her bedroom ceiling, the home conclusion is bittersweet. But ever the competitor, Martin kept her focus entirely on the present.

“It’s sad,” she said. “But we’re mission-focused.”

Matt Martin coaches high school football at Edwardsville (Ill.) High School, a charming suburb located on the east side of the St. Louis metro area. Several of his pupils have played major Division I football, including former Iowa All-American A.J. Epenesa, now a defensive end with the Buffalo Bills.

As a child, Kate Martin also played tackle football, and she loved it. She still does. It taught her teamwork and toughness. “I love football so much,” Martin said. “If I could still play, I’d hope I’d play quarterback because that’s my favorite position.” It’s not necessarily Martin’s passing prowess that would make her an ideal quarterback; Clark’s throwing ability, for instance, is otherworldly. But Martin’s leadership and game management are hard to replicate. She has shown those traits on the hardwood, and they apply to football.

Her work ethic sets her apart, too, and to that she credits her parents. “He always kept it real with me,” Martin said of her father. “He’s never really sugarcoated things for me, and he was very encouraging as well. He gets college sports; he played college sports. He gets being what a good teammate looks like, he knows what a hard-working player looks like. And I think he and my mom both instilled hard work in me.”

Competition has provided the foundation of Martin’s life, and that started at an early age. Her dad played football at Western Illinois. Her mother, Jill, grew up as one of six siblings. Jill’s sister, Julie Fitzpatrick, is married to Iowa associate head coach Jan Jensen. Martin’s older sister, Kennedy, played Division II basketball at Truman (Mo.) State.

This season, Martin averaged 13 points and 6.7 rebounds a game. In her career, she has scored 1,230 points, dished 469 assists and pulled down 718 rebounds. In Saturday’s NCAA first-round victory against Holy Cross, she recorded 15 points and 14 rebounds.

A late bloomer in high school, Kate’s first offer came from Bradley in her father’s hometown of Peoria, Ill. A few others trickled in, including from DePaul and Wisconsin, but Iowa’s methodical recruiting process was tough on Martin and her family. “I was a little frustrated with Iowa,” Matt said. “They were real slow.”

The family angle prevented an early offer and an easy commit. Jensen divorced herself from the process. There was a split among the assistants at the time on Martin’s upside. Finally, Jensen had a conversation with coach Lisa Bluder before their flight to visit Martin.

“I’ve watched her grow up and this was her dream and she just was like a kick-butt type of player,” Jensen said. “But I was also like, OK, everybody else has to be in on this. I said, ‘Lisa, you’re gonna fly with me. We’re gonna take this plane, but I’m not making the final decision.’ So we went down and Lisa watched and it was over.”

“Coach J stayed out of my recruiting process because she’s gonna have some biases, like, I’m her niece,” Martin said. “She knew how bad I wanted to come here. So all the assistant coaches really recruited me and some of them didn’t even realize I was related to Jan before they saw me, and were like, ‘Man, I like this girl.’”

Martin’s first season at Iowa ended prematurely with a torn ACL. In the moment, it was devastating. But she admits she learned more that season than from any other, such as becoming a supportive teammate. Martin watched national player of the year Megan Gustafson work relentlessly on Mikan drills and exude a presence that forced every teammate to match her dedication.

“To see that in person, it was insane,” Martin said. “She instilled a little bit of what it takes to get to that level, to be great like she was. I watched her workouts plenty of times and she never took a rep off at practice. I was like, ‘Oh s—, I’m going to have to bring my ‘A’ game every single practice next year.’”

By her third season, Martin became Iowa’s team captain.

Kate Martin is “wired the same way as me,” Caitlin Clark said. (Matthew Holst / Getty Images)

On Martin’s left arm in blueish ink is the word “sunshine.” It’s tattooed in an unrecognizable font to anyone but her. And that’s all that really matters anyway.

“Sunshine” is what Martin called her grandmother, who lived in the Quad Cities when she was growing up. They played board games together and had a faith-based relationship. When Martin was younger, she asked Grandma Sunshine to “pray for me to go to Iowa.” Before Grandma Sunshine passed in 2015, she wrote her nickname on a Yahtzee playing card and gave it to Martin. When she was old enough to get a tattoo, she had it inked in her arm. “That’s for my grandma,” Martin said.

Family matters to her, and that’s from her blood relatives to her extended Hawkeye family. In the summer following her ACL season, she texted Marshall and asked her if she wanted to hang out at her apartment with the other players. Marshall had yet to meet all of her teammates and the invitation served as an introduction.

“That just shows the type of person that she is,” Marshall said. “She can read people so well. If you’re having a bad day or having a bad practice, she’ll text you after like, ‘Let me know if you need to talk.’ She truly brings other people along with her.”

It works the same way for her parents. Like their daughter, Matt and Jill usually keep their emotions in check when it comes to sports. In fact, the family rips on one another for their golf swings or their singing ability on Rock Band. But on the way back from Minneapolis after the recent Big Ten tournament, Matt and Jill saw tons of Iowa fans at stops along the Avenue of the Saints.

In the Big Ten tournament championship, Martin sank four 3-pointers after halftime, including two in overtime. Her shots helped Iowa dig out of an 8-point deficit inside of three minutes remaining to beat Nebraska for the program’s third straight tournament title.

“I just wanted to yell, ‘Hey, Kate Martin’s my daughter,’ which is totally out of character,” Matt said. “I had never felt that before. I was just so proud of her team. I was proud of her.

“When this is all said and done, I’ll share that with her. I don’t know if I’ve ever really said that because it’s always been the next goal. I don’t know if I’ve ever said what a great job she’s done. What a fine young lady she’s become. We don’t talk like that. We tease each other. We’re ruthless to each other.”

With Martin, there’s sizzle and steak. She’s all family and basketball, yes, but she has a layered personality. She learned how to ride a bike at 3 years old. She loved the video game Rock Band, shooting pool and motorcycles. She once wanted to be a tattoo artist, and she grew up climbing trees and digging holes.

She lines every hot sauce bottle she’s ever owned above her apartment cabinets. She became an early aficionado of Hot Cheetos, which her mother said she ate “every single day for lunch.” That became a gateway snack to her hot sauce craze.

“I had to wean off of them,” Martin said. “I was going through withdrawals when I stopped eating them.”

There’s no conclusion to the Kate Martin story — it’s only the beginning. Her Iowa career will conclude within the next two weeks. She wants to continue playing basketball for as long as possible before becoming a coach. She will have her master’s degree in May. Although she has made the dean’s list at Iowa, she never wants to take another course after this semester.

In the present, she will continue to lead. That’s what she does. Martin combines physical and mental toughness with selflessness, to which Jensen said, “That’s the thing that really separates her.”

“I’ve often said she’s a captain’s captain, and I don’t say that lightly because we have had great ones,” Jensen said. “But she stands alone with what she’s always carried and managed. And then you add what she has been able to do for Caitlin, she’s the Robin to Batman.”

Bluder added: “She’s the first person that will hold people accountable, and she’s also the first person that will pat everybody on the back when they need it. She builds people up. I think that’s the biggest thing about a leader is when you can make the people around you better, and Kate Martin has done that.”

At some point, she’ll be known as Coach Kate. That day is coming. Clark said Martin is “one of the best leaders any of us have been around.” From managing egos on the floor to working with her coaches, Martin has become both a leader and a peer. It’s something everyone recognizes, from her father to Bluder, who said, “She’s going to be a fabulous coach.”

“This is a biased statement,” Matt said. “If she goes into coaching, she will be known. It will be a matter of time, but she will be one of the best coaches you will ever see.”

(Top photo of Kate Martin: Matthew Holst / Getty Images)

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