The elevator in the Student Union opens, and Jada Martin emerges, flanked by some of her teammates. It’s Thursday night, and the women’s team has just scored a big home win over rival Old Dominion, holding the Monarchs to a season low 43 points.
But, instead of adorning the usual green and white uniform, Number 10 steps out wearing a bandana, sleek black tee, complemented with a light beige jacket, jeans and a pair of classic Timberlands. The butters! Straight from the ’90s. Smooth like her game, dripping in finesse. Simply put, it’s a tough fit.
Incidentally, those two words describe Martin’s role on Charlotte’s team perfectly. In being one of the three senior leaders on this roster, Martin has proven herself to be tough and reliable, while also fitting in and taking on the role of a defensive stopper. She has weaved herself into the fabric of this young roster, providing crucial minutes when called upon and also scoring timely baskets.
So, how exactly did she get here?
The Come Up
Martin stands on the home baseline in Halton Arena near the bench. She stands underneath the banners and jerseys of former Niner greats in the rafters. There are 10 days remaining until Senior Day, when she and classmates Nyilah Jamison-Myers and Amaya Ransom will be honored after their last home game against Florida Atlantic.
She pauses, savoring the moments before an afternoon weight lift. How again did she get here?
Just two seasons ago, Martin was playing ball at Spartanburg Methodist, where she averaged 9.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.7 dimes per contest as a sophomore. During that year, she had five double-doubles and started in every single contest. She then transferred to Charlotte, where she became the very first walk-on under coach Cara Consuegra. Prior to that year, Consuegra had never held walk-on tryouts.
Martin continued to impress on and off the floor, and that spring, she earned a scholarship. Fast forward through the grueling summer and fall preseason camps, and Martin found herself on the floor quite often. Whether defending on the perimeter or hitting threes or securing offensive boards, Martin is always in the right place at the right time. She quotes Joel Embiid when asked about her journey: “trust the process.”
“It’s definitely a tough process, and it can definitely get frustrating at times,” Martin said. “But as long as you keep confidence, believe in yourself and work hard, everything does pay off in the long run.”
Martin’s come up is remarkable, and she notes the various differences between junior college and Division I college ball.
“The biggest difference is definitely the speed and all the work that’s required, that needs to be put in and the time that you’re spending in the gym. Not exactly on your own, but that’s mandatory. And definitely the weightlifting. But mainly the speed, the demands and the speed of the game at the next level,” Martin said.
She looks off to the side to the coolers of water and Powerade. Her practice jersey hangs from her hands as she considers her next thought.
“My advice to people that are trying to go DI and transfer over? I would say just work hard,” Martin said. “Like, you’ve got to work hard and have that mentality that, regardless of what’s going on around me, I’m gonna do better. If I wanna do better, I gotta put in the work and it’s all gonna pay off.”
It’s clear that work ethic has gotten Martin to where she is today. There’s no shortcuts, no ifs, ands or buts, no ways around it. For many athletes, their work ethic falls well short of their talent. That’s not true at all for Martin. After playing in 10 games last year as a junior and scoring her first points against UTSA, Martin has been on the court more consistently for the 49ers this year. Oftentimes, she is put in toward the ends of quarters or halves, specifically when the other team has possession and the Niners need a stop.
Martin is the head of the snake in the 49ers zone defense, and she is also a lockdown individual defender when given the opportunity. But don’t get it twisted. Martin is more than just a defender. Against South Carolina State this year, she hit a big three in transition before also securing an offensive rebound and putback a few possessions later to give Charlotte momentum. She also had scoring performances against Coppin State, FIU, and Western Kentucky.
“It’s kinda different because I’m in a position where I don’t play as much because I transferred in. But at the same time, I’m expected to be a leader, just because that’s how I am,” Martin said.
“I’ve always been a leader. It’s kinda tough, but at the end of the day, it’s about the team and the leadership that the freshmen need coming in. It’s big. It prepares the program for years to come. So, I still do my best to lead the freshmen, trying to lead as best I can on and off the court.”
Know Your Role
Martin, or J-Mart, as she is called by her teammates and friends, has always been one to play her role. Though it’s just a nickname, J-Mart could easily be an acronym: “Just Mounting At the Right Time.” Consuegra noted J-Mart’s emergence in the February 26 episode of Gold Mine Live.
“The kid just completely won me over,” Consuegra said. “Not just because of basketball, but just her spirit, her enthusiasm. She’s a hard worker, she’s willing to do anything that I ask her to do for the team… Quite frankly, she’s earned herself an opportunity to play.”
Consuegra continued to note the importance of Martin’s play, even though not everything she does pops up in the box score.
“She pushes our kids. Defensively, she’s super solid for us. I know when we really need a stop, I’m subbing J-Mart in. She’s just made us better in so many different ways and I’m really thankful that I had those walk-on tryouts that day.”
Gold Mine Live host Matt Sweirad called J-Mart Charlotte’s “own version of Rudy”, referencing the famed 1970’s Notre Dame football player whose life was documented in a movie and has since become a sports classic.
While the sport is different, J-Mart has continued to prove her worth to the squad, and her efforts have undoubtedly help spear the Niners toward the conference tournament.
“Starting at guard… a five-foot-eight senior from Winnsboro, South Carolina… Number 10… Jadaaaaaaaaaa Maaaaarttiiiiinnnnnn!”
The crowd goes wild as Martin emerges from the smoke-filled tunnel. It’s something that all athletes dream of: their name being yelled over the loudspeaker as the music booms and the arena goes dark. Tonight, another dream comes true.
On Senior Night, J-Mart earns her first career start against Florida Atlantic, and she doesn’t disappoint. With braids and a headband, balling out like a young Allen Iverson, Martin hits a smooth reverse layup on the baseline in addition to a rebound and an assist. The Niners lead wire-to-wire and send Martin, Ransom and Jamison-Myers out on a high note with an 83-69 win.
“I think everyone as a whole has become more focused,” Martin said. “The leaders we do have on this team, I think we have become more focused on holding everyone else accountable. It shows in practice, it transfers over in practice. We’ve been having consistently good practices, and it definitely transfers over in the game.”
“She’s one that’s always ready. Whenever we put her in– and obviously she got a great opportunity tonight, and she made the most of it– she was ready,” Consuegra said after the FAU game. “She’s a kid that cares about her teammates, and she cares about doing things well at a high level. That’s just a contagious energy that comes from her and she brings it every single day, and it’s made our team a lot better.”
Martin, with flowers in hand, prepares to walk off the court at Halton Arena for the final time as a player. She knows that the team’s mission isn’t finished yet, but for the moment, she can relax and enjoy this time of serenity. Her sneakers squeaking on the hardwood, Martin exits, with her jersey drenched in hard work. It’s not just sweat though.
Jada Martin is dripping in finesse.