During an early season of fill-in-the-blank starting lineups, one player on the Hawaii mens basketball team has emerged as the ultimate Phil-in.
In the absence of several low-post players, Phil Martin has blossomed earlier than expected in the Rainbows game plan. Considered a reserve forward during the preseason, Martin is now the teams starting center.
The 6-foot-7 freshman will make his 10th consecutive start tonight when the Rainbows play host to Texas-El Paso in a Western Athletic Conference game at the Stan Sheriff Center.
"We didnt expect him to have to do this much right now," Hawaii coach Riley Wallace said. "But this is going to help him down the line. Hes ahead of where he would be because weve been forced to use him."
Martins emergence has come via unexpected circumstances.
The combination of Haim Shimonovics seemingly endless wait for an NCAA ruling on his eligibility, Bosko Radovics season-ending broken leg, and Troy Ostlers sprained ankle, has allowed Martin to move into the starting lineup.
He started his first four games at power forward, but has since moved to center while Ostlers ankle heals.
"I know my role has expanded," said Martin, who weighs 200 pounds. "But Im up to the challenge. Im just excited to get a chance to fill a spot."
So far, Martin has gone beyond expectations. He is averaging 9.2 points and 3.5 rebounds per game, and leads the WAC with a .672 field goal percentage. Since becoming a starter, he is averaging 12.0 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.
"I think I bring a lot of energy to the floor," Martin said. "But I take shots that I know I can make."
That is a style Wallace wishes more Rainbows would emulate. Among UH players logging significant minutes, Martin is the only one converting more than 50 percent of his field goals.
"And hell score even more if he were a better rebounder," Wallace said. "But he just doesnt take bad shots, and so he gets his share of points."
Whats more, Martin is becoming a versatile defensive stopper. Last week, he held Southern Methodists Jeryl Sasser, a 6-6 guard averaging over 18 points per game, to nine points.
Tonight, he will attempt to contain Brandon Wolfram, a 6-9, 240-pound power forward, who leads the WAC and is second in NCAA Division I with 24.4 points per game. He also averages 8.4 rebounds per game and is shooting .598 from the field.
While aware of Hawaiis current height deficiencies, UTEP coach Jason Rabedeaux said he has no plans of turning tonights game into the Wolfram show.
"We wouldnt be 12-1 if this were a one-man team," Rabedeaux said. "Brandon can do a lot of good things, but hes got a good supporting cast."
Three other Miners average double-figure points. Brian Stewart, a 6-10 center scoring 11.3 per game, will likely be defended by Hawaiis 6-6 forward, Mindaugas Burneika.
"Major concerns," Wallace said when asked about the Miners interior size. "Wolframs a very good player. Were smaller, but were quicker. We just have to box-out (for rebounds) and out-hustle them."
Martin agreed, adding: "Basically, whats in my arsenal is quickness. I just have to use my feet to get around guys rather than trying to power them."
It was that kind of athletic ability that caught the attention of UH assistant Scott Rigot two years ago, when he was recruiting Martin out of Ontario, Canada. Martin played at Cathedral High School, one of Canadas top basketball programs, and was on a Canadian all-star team as a senior.
"Hawaii was never in the picture," Martin said. "It was an instantaneous decision once they offered me a scholarship. The weather and beaches appealed to me so much."
The Rainbows are hoping he never cools off.