Gaining New Perspective After Suffering Scary Injury, Martini Excited as PU Men’s Hoops Heads into Ivy Play
ZACH IS BACK: Princeton University men’s basketball player Zach Martini pulls down a rebound in a game last season. Last Friday, junior forward Martini had season-highs of eight points and four rebounds in 13 minutes off the bench as Princeton defeated Division III Kean 88-70 and improved to 9-4. Martini, who was sidelined earlier this season for nearly two months due to a collapsed lung, is emerging a key frontcourt reserve for the squad. The Tigers begin their Ivy League campaign when they host Harvard on December 31. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Zach Martini was primed to make a big impact this winter in his junior season for the Princeton University men’s basketball team, but he got hit with an injury in the preseason that nearly derailed him.
At a practice in early October, the 6’7, 235-pound forward collided with a teammate and he knew something was seriously wrong.
“My lung collapsed taking a charge, I was hospitalized for about five nights,” recalled Martini, a native of Warren. “It was really scary. It definitely changed my perspective on basketball and life. I didn’t think I would be able to play.”
After being sidelined for nearly two months while he recovered, Martini returned to action against Cairn on November 30.
“I am just really, really fortunate to play and be back on the court again with my team, the guys I love and support,” said Martini.
For Martini, a key breakthrough in his recovery was summoning up the courage to brace himself for contact on defense.
“I was, ‘all right, I have to try to take a charge,’” said Martini. “I think I will be OK, and then I took one at Drexel. I was able to take the charge and got up. I was really happy. I didn’t want to change the way that I play and I don’t think it has. I think that is the thing I am most proud of.”
Last Friday in an 88-70 win over Division III Kean University, Martini displayed his hard-nosed play with a season-highs of eight points and four rebounds in 13 minutes off the bench as Princeton improved to 9-4.
“It was a lot of fun, it was good to be out there,” said Martini, reflecting on the win over Kean. “I thought we did a good job at the start of the second half taking care of the ball and then things didn’t go our way too well at the end of the second half. I felt like everyone, one through 13, was right there supporting them. We had their backs in that moment.”
In his role as a key frontcourt reserve for the Tigers, Martini is looking to be a more mature player on the court.
“I think I am slowing myself down, I am pretty hard on myself,” said Martini, who is averaging 3.7 points and 2.8 rebounds a game in his six appearances so far this season. “I think I am just able to get off my mistakes and focus on the next play a lot more this year. I am doing a better job using my voice for the younger guys and trying to be a leader on this team.”
Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson is thrilled that Martini has been able to return to action.
“I am happy he is back, we played in Spain this summer and we had an opportunity to see Zach in some really important minutes over there,” said Henderson. “He is physical, he makes a shot, he runs. We have a term, ‘run like Zach,’ meaning run as fast as you possibly can. Everybody knows right where Zach stands, he plays as hard as he possibly can. You have seen it, he is exactly what he is. If you asked every guy on the team, they would say Zach plays as hard as anybody else.”
Henderson was not happy, however, with the Tigers lack of execution against Kean as they committed 29 turnovers and were outscored 25-10 over the last 11 minutes of the contest.
“Hopefully we didn’t set a record in turnovers, we probably did,” said a rueful Henderson, who got a career-high 23 points from Ryan Langborg in the win with Tosan Evbuomwan chipping in 12 points, six assists, and four rebounds. “We have really lofty goals, that was a sloppy game. I had the young guys out there maybe too long. It got a little ugly there at the end.”
The holiday break comes at a good time for the Tigers. “It is important for us to go home and take a couple of days,” said Henderson. “We have just been going hard. We had a long trip to London. There are two different seasons here. When we come back, we have to be ready to go.”
In Henderson’s view, the hard finish against Kean could be a good teachable moment for the Tigers.
“What happened there at the end, that is the beauty of watching sports,” said Henderson. “There are growing pains right in front of your eyes. It was pretty obvious that we have some work to do. What I liked is the older guys were talking to the younger guys saying ‘hey, this is not how we do it.’ That is a really good sign. We have to just come back and be really connected. We will find out on the 27th when we come back.”
Opening its Ivy League campaign by hosting Harvard (8-5) this Saturday, Princeton should find out a lot.
“They played Kansas really tough (a 68-54 loss on December 22 against the No. 4 Jayhawks), they had nice win on the road at UC Irvine (62-57 on December 20),” said Henderson. “We had two really close games with them a year ago. They are really different, we are really different. Then we go on the road for almost the entire month of January. It is very important that we get off to a good start. I think the league is the best I have ever seen it from top to bottom. It is going to be really tough this year.”
With a different outlook on things in the wake of his injury, Martini will be savoring the journey this winter wherever it ends up.
“I am so fortunate just to be healthy and playing,” said Martini. “I am just trying to enjoy every moment of it. It is hard for me, I get caught up in a lot of stuff. I am just trying to keep that in perspective.”