Martin Schnedlitz: A senior looks back

Martin Schnedlitz signed with Vanderbilt in Nov., 1999-- a promising, 6-10 center, a gem in Kevin Stallings' first recruiting class. Since then, a seemingly unending series of knee surgeries has limited his basketball career to scant minutes on rare occasions-- but the Austria native never quit, never gave up hoping. Here Schnedlitz, who plays his final home game Wednesday, shares the inspirational story of his four-year struggle to overcome pain and discouragement.

Martin Schnedlitz signed with Vanderbilt in Nov. 1999 and became part of a six-man recruiting class that included Matt Freije, Russell Lakey, Scott Hundley, Brendan Plavich and Billy Richmond. In his senior year of high school, however, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee and missed most of the season. He rehabbed and redshirted his freshman year at Vanderbilt, but the knee never responded to treatment, and more surgeries were required.

Four years and six knee surgeries later, Schnedlitz is still struggling with a bum knee, and his playing time has been limited to scant minutes on occasions when the game is out of hand. Yet Schnedlitz never quit, never stopped working out, never stopped practicing when his knee would allow it. Though confined most of the time to the bench, he is every bit as integral a part of the Vanderbilt program as the other three seniors.

The 6-10, 255-pound senior from Austria plays his last game before the home fans Wednesday (along with Freije, Lakey and Hundley), and is on track to graduate in May with a major in Economics, Political Science and French.


VandyMania: Martin, we have followed your career since you were a freshman, and have always enjoyed those occasions when you got to play. Has there been any improvement in your knee? Does it still hamper you a lot? Does it still go out on you a lot?

Martin Schnedlitz: Yes, unfortunately it does. I've had six knee surgeries, I've had my ACL torn twice, and meniscus damage. I don't have a lot of cartilage left in my knee. So yes, I'm still struggling with it. I don't think it's ever going to recover from all the surgeries and the damage that's been done to it. I'm not able to run, and not able to work out 100% of the time. I just try to go on a day-to-day basis to keep the swelling down. It still swells up all the time. It's still a constant struggle with it.

VandyMania: You could have quit many times, and I'll bet most people in your situation would have quit a long time ago. But something has kept you going.

Martin: They told me two years ago that my basketball career was going to be over, that my knees couldn't take it any more, and as for my future, it wouldn't be good to play basketball any more. But I stuck with it because the guys I came in with, I care about so much. I said I wanted to finish my career with these guys, Matt Freije, Scott Hundley and Russell Lakey. They're such great guys, and I don't want to let them down. Even if I can't be out on the court with them, I can still bring leadership, and show how it's supposed to be done off the court. I can still do all I can off the court to help motivate the team.

VandyMania: You've obviously got a deep, deep bond with Freije, Lakey, Hundley and those guys. You live together and everything. I don't think some people realize just how close you guys get.

Martin: Yeah, it's great. We love each other. From the first day when we all got here and met each other, it's been absolutely great. We hang out all the time. Obviously we live together in a suite now. It's a bond that's developed over the last four years. It's just a great thing coming in with four guys that you really care about. You see how we've matured over the last four years and helped this team and brought leadership to this team. Finally seeing all this clicking and coming together is absolutely great.

VandyMania: You haven't played a lot this year, but if you had to name just one or two things that have really helped the team make this turnaround, what would it be?

Martin: I think the attitude of the team, the senior leadership. Last year we had one of the walk-ons as the only senior. As a team we didn't really have anybody to look up to. This year, having four seniors and knowing what we need to do-- that's the essential part. We got everybody clicking, everybody on the right page. And the Spain trip during the summer was absolutely helpful. We only went home for about two weeks this summer, and the rest of the time we stayed here, lifting weights. We had a great trip with lots of practicing before that to get ready for it. That gave us a head start and was absolutely helpful to our success.

VandyMania: Some have said that Coach Stallings has been a lot different this year, that he's eased up some and backed off on you some. What's your perspective on that?

Martin: He has. Everybody's changed. I think the last four years he's been kind of testing out the waters, seeing what he has to do to win at Vanderbilt, how he needs to treat players and communicate with players. This year he's really changed a lot. He's gotten a lot more quiet, as you can tell! I think the guys have responded to it, and this year I think we have perfect communication between team and coaching staff. That's one of the reasons too why we're having success this year.

VandyMania: Your career obviously has not gone the way you hoped it would and expected it would four years ago. Has that kind of make a philosopher out of you?

Martin: (Laughs.) You know what? The situation I was given, I can't do anything about. I can't worry about that. So I'm actually very happy about what has happened. I still feel like I'm part of the team. I might not be able to play. My knee might have prevented that. But I would never trade off being a part of this team or trying to stay with these guys until the last day of our senior year practice and our last game, and giving all to support them any way I can.

VandyMania: Can you believe the four years have gone by as fast as they have?

Martin: No. It's tremendous. We were just walking by the dorm the other day, and we were like, gosh, that was our freshman dorm! I just can't believe it's gone by so fast. Being occupied with basketball and school 24/7, I can't believe the time has gone by so fast. It takes away all the time you have to step out of this. It's kind of scary to think there's only two months left of this semester.

VandyMania: I gotta ask one more question, and you can pass on this if you want to... I read that article in the Tennessean on Matt Freije last week. He said something about, yeah, that "Martin Schnedlitz, he's kind of a girly guy who takes about an hour and a half to get ready in the morning." Just wonder if you've got any response to that?

Martin: (Laughs)No, that's OK. He's trying to be real funny. We've lived together, and he said he was gonna get me in the news at some point, and get me back for some of the things I've done to him. So I just give him that as fair. It's all just poking fun.

VandyMania: Sure you don't want to tell anything on him?

Martin: Actually, being put on the spot, I'm not gonna go into that whole trash-talking game. So, no, I don't think I have anything to say! (laugh)

VandyMania: Martin, I think your attitude is absolutely awesome. On behalf of all the fans out there, I'd just like to thank you for sticking with it for all four years.

Martin: Thanks very much.


Action shot of Martin Schnedlitz by Neil Brake, Vanderbilt athletics.

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