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Martin goes one-on-one to improve game

BRADENTON, Fla. – Kevin Martin hasn't received his homework assignment just yet, and it shows.

"Everybody says they want to force me left, but I want them to force me left," the Kings shooting guard says with a bit of bravado inside a dank gym at the IMG Academy earlier this month. "I love going left."

But the research – a sheet filled with statistics Martin hands to his personal coach, David Thorpe, on this muggy morning – shows it's not quite that simple. Martin may have gone left 62.19 percent of the time last season, but his efficiency when heading that direction was well below the rate when he headed right.

He settled for the midrange jumper 63.25 percent of the time as opposed to 38.89 percent on the right side, which matters because the numbers also prove scoring at the rim is a greater certainty than burying pull-ups from any range.

This is just one nuance of Martin's game, but it is the lesson of the day.

And class is just getting started.

Players choosing personal touch

As NBA salaries have skyrocketed over the past 20 years, more players have hired individual coaches. The salary cap, $6.2 million in the 1987-88 season, was $55.6 million last season, with the average individual salary $5.2 million. Martin is among the many who reflect the change, having signed a five-year, $53 million extension last summer.

As a result, most players have embraced a reality that they are each individual corporations, mini-companies who are more willing to invest in their own brand than ever. Thorpe, Martin's behind-the-curtain coach since the summer after his freshman season at Western Carolina, estimates 10 to 25 percent of NBA players rely on outside consultants/coaches. Some players spend as little as $10,000 in a summer for detailed offseason workouts. Others employ a full-time individual coach who lives in their adopted home city and travels to away games for what often is a low six-figure salary. To varying degrees, the goal is finding a qualified coach who can provide the sort of one-on-one instruction NBA teams often can't.

While Thorpe and Martin declined to discuss the details of their arrangement, it is difficult to argue with the success of their pairing. Thorpe, 43, is a coach who chose the alternative route in his late 20s, opting to train players individually after coaching high school basketball in Florida and turning down offers from the college ranks.

He says he wanted to "avoid the rat race" of the coaching world, where recruiting skills and politicking play as big a part as player development.

He has about 40 clients, ranging from top-tier pros (Martin and Chicago's Luol Deng and Tyrus Thomas) to pros who play overseas, NBA Development League players and college types. He also holds a side job as an analyst for ESPN.com, evaluating and analyzing players on the Web just as he does in his gym.

His partnership with Martin began when Martin's coach at Western Carolina, Steve Shurina, asked Thorpe to work out his player at his Pro Training Center facility in Clearwater, Fla.

Extra work is essential

In the beginning, Thorpe wasn't sure Martin had the dedication and mettle required to make the most of his program.

With Thorpe officiating occasional scrimmages, Martin was a frequent complainer whose frail frame was bruised and battered daily. Thorpe said he sometimes wondered if Martin would return the next day.

The summer sessions are the root of their work, a pre-training camp training camp that ensures Martin is in prime shape physically and mentally by the time his team reunites. This summer, his first visit came in June. Martin headed for Florida on vacation in nearby Longboat Keys, but he couldn't help visiting the inland facility for light workouts on three of the five days he was in the area.

The scheduled sessions began Sept. 6 and ended Sept. 16, with Martin and fewer than 10 players participating. Mondays through Thursdays meant double-days, during which Martin was joined by the likes of former NBA center and European star Daniel Santiago and various D-League players. There was one practice on Fridays, with the weekends reserved for rest. Weightlifting five days per week was also part of the routine, with Martin following an e-mailed script from Kings strength and conditioning coach Daniel Shapiro.

"We've had seven years of discussions about how, 'This is your job,' " Thorpe said. "Every accountant, every attorney, the best doctors, they're all putting in 80 to 90 hours (a week). … You're supposed to do that. You're supposed to be studying film. You're supposed to be invested beyond the two hours on the court in your job."

Martin said the sessions have grown more intense and more specific every summer.

"In college, (Thorpe) didn't break things down numbers-wise," Martin said. "He was just giving me the basics. It's like he had this planned the whole time, like he knew how my career was going to go."

Yet no one predicted the amount of Kings coaching turnover Martin would deal with. Head coach Rick Adelman made way for Eric Musselman and then Reggie Theus, with their staff of assistants changing almost entirely each time. Kings assistant Jason Hamm, who traveled to Bradenton during Martin's stay to observe and assist, is the lone coach who remains from Musselman's one-year stay. The changeover, Martin said, has been easier to deal with because Thorpe is his stabilizing force.

"I've had hundreds of people who worked me out, who think they know a lot about the game," Martin said. "But once I started comparing them to (Thorpe), there's really no comparison. That's why I trust him with everything I have, and he trusts me to know that I'm listening to him. That's why we're a good pair."

Distractions kept to minimum

The IMG campus itself is full of frills, with some high school students paying more than $40,000 for year-round education and training in sports including tennis, soccer, golf, baseball, basketball and swimming. Paris Hilton has a younger cousin who's attending school and training here. Mercedes, BMWs and other high-end luxury cars are parked between the various buildings of sports instruction. Lunchtime menu items in the luxurious cafeteria include duck quesadillas and various fish, salads with rows of healthy toppings and numerous juices.

But the setting and Martin's setup aren't quite so posh. Martin stays in a two-bedroom condo off campus. It's a glorified dorm room, big enough to house him and his cousin, Brody, but not fancy by any means. The two-minute drive to the gym at IMG makes the back-and-forth convenient, and Martin is content as long as there is a bed for between-practice naps.

While some of the better-known training facilities are in Chicago and Las Vegas, the distractions that might entice athletes in those cities don't exist here.

On Sept. 9, Martin and Brody spent the evening eating delivered pizza and watching a reality television show, "Million Dollar Listing" on Bravo. The next night they went out on the town, cruising the aisles at the local Best Buy and browsing through the mall. All of which is just fine with Martin, of course, because Brody is one of his closest friends and because he's here to focus on basketball anyway.

In the latest summer meeting between him and Thorpe, the to-do list is short and to the point. The June visit led to discussions on Martin's ballhandling and a shared decision to make it a priority. With Ron Artest and Mike Bibby gone and Martin about to become the proverbial "Man," he and Thorpe agree he can't be as quick to pass the ball as he has been. Martin also must get lower to the floor when in attack mode, the committee has decided, because playing so upright has exposed him to being bumped off-course and limited his one-on-one possibilities.

The objective was relayed to Hamm, who works with Martin in Sacramento and has established enough of a rapport with Thorpe that they can make this a collaborative effort. Thus, Martin's handle – as dribbling skills are known – already has improved by the time September arrives.

Drills, drills and more drills

The next order of basketball business was his three-point shot from the top of the key. A breakdown of Martin's field-goal percentages from various spots on the floor shows he hit just 30.6 percent of threes from atop the key, which is quite low considering he shot 40.2 percent from beyond the arc overall. As a result, drills and endless shots from that spot are integrated into their practices.

A final point of emphasis is Martin's offensive aggressiveness. For all his athleticism and explosiveness, he doesn't dunk nearly as often as he could. During one practice, Thorpe is hollering at Martin and the entire group to finish with "speed and violence" during a dunk drill. He will dunk more than 150 times before the day is over and complain of burning legs. Hamm, who has become Martin's main coach among the assistants, fully supports improving that facet of his game. The convenient part, he said, is Martin's willingness to do the work needed to see improvement.

"(Martin's work ethic) is very unique," said Hamm, who is entering his eighth NBA season and has worked with Memphis, the Warriors and the Kings.

"I compare him to (the Grizzlies') Mike Miller, who is just a workaholic (who) you have to beg to take days off. That's the kind of guy Kevin is."

The connection between Thorpe and Martin isn't broken at summer's end. They talk or text after every game and most days in between, with Thorpe sharing observations and often offering harsh critiques. Thorpe occasionally flies to Kings games, partly for an up-to-date look at his prized pupil but also to ensure Martin – whom he calls "the perfect student" – doesn't revert to bad habits as the season wears on.

The lessons, in other words, will continue.

Check out the video that goes along with the story!

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