NSU basketball staffer heads far west to the Far East

Kids playing basketball enjoy the playground game “Around the World.”

Former Northwestern State graduate manager Stephon Martinez is living it.

Last week, “former” didn’t fit next to his job title, but opportunity suddenly knocked. Last Saturday’s home game was his final one with the Demons. Martinez is heading toward Beijing, China, and a player development position at the renowned WuFang Sports Center.

He will spend a year in Beijing, training players ranging from teenagers to seasoned professionals, even some from the NBA.

He was recommended by Mike Procopio, director of player development for the Dallas Mavericks, and Tony Ronzone, director of player personnel for the Mavs.

“When those guys give you their seal of approval,” said Martinez, “it’s pretty much an offer you wouldn’t begin to refuse.”

He has been far away before. Martinez spent 15 days last summer in Nazareth, Israel, running basketball camps. He’s spent a few days in Finland doing the same thing, and in Mexico, where he has family roots.

It’s an unconventional path among his peers in college basketball. Most of them have visions of coaching in the NBA or in the blue-blood world of Power 5 conference basketball.

Martinez, a former college player at Lyon College in Arkansas, wants to teach the sport. After graduating in business administration, he founded DigDeep Basketball, a skill-development company that caters from youth leaguers to pro players.

“The Chinese Basketball Association is exploding. The NBA is obviously the best league in the world, and Europe is right behind that in terms of the caliber of play, but the CBA is getting in the conversation,” said Martinez. “Economically, there are a billion people there, three times the size of our population, and they love basketball. They have a very serious financial commitment to the game.

“I’ll have all levels of players. A lot of professional Chinese domestic players, a lot of NBA guys come over in the summer, and a good number of former NBA players are coming over to play and train. We’ll have good junior players and kids just starting and showing some promise,” he said.

Although his time at NSU is ending a few months early – he will complete his sport administration master’s degree, however – and in midseason, Martinez is grateful for his Demon days.

“Everybody on our staff has influenced me. Before I got here, I thought I worked hard. I’ve picked up something from everybody that I know will benefit me the rest of my career. Some places in Division I, you’re there to lick envelopes and fold towels. Here, the way Coach McConathy runs it, you get to do a lot. I tell the new GA’s coming in, you have the same base responsibility. It’s your duty to see if you can earn more. That’s how you get better. I’ve had a lot of opportunity to grow here.”