Dream Realized

For Mountaineers such as Kevin Pittsnogle or Mike Gansey, a box score reading seven minutes, 0-1 from the field and zeroes across the rest of the board would be an indicator of a major problem. For one member of the men's basketball team, however, it's the validation of a tough decision made two years ago.

Walkon Sean Martini, who hails from Bedminster, N.J., was a good high school player, but not one that was being recruited by any high-level basketball powers. Rather than accept an offer to play in a lower division, Martini decided to follow his dream.

"I played my high school basketball in New Jersey, and I always wanted to play in the Big East," Martini said as he retraced the steps that brought him to West Virginia. "I wasn't a big recruit coming out of high school there, so it was huge risk that I took. I wanted to leave New Jersey, and I wanted to play in the Big East, so I looked around at other schools. I decided on West Virginia, got accepted, and came to school here. My main goal was to make the team, and I did."

Simple as that, right? Those few sentences, however, cover a lot of ground. Martini came to WVU for the 2004-05 school year, but didn't do much with the team until the end of the spring semester.

"Coach Beilein talked to me and invited me to do everything with the team starting last May," Martini explained. "Since then I've been doing everything with the team -- running the track, working out and playing. So when he finally told me I was on the team, it was great, and we were used to each other. We were a family already."

Once again, a long stretch, covering a lot of work, wrapped up in a few short sentences. And it leaves out all of the daily grind, the running and lifting and shooting during the heat of summer, when most people his age are at the beach or relaxing over the break. What must it be like to put in all that work with no guarantee of even getting to practice with the team when official work starts in the fall – to say nothing of getting to wear a uniform or, dream of all dreams, play in a game?

Martini, however, had that dream. He wanted to play in the Big East. To him, the uncertainty, the gamble, was worth it. Even if it meant leaving New Jersey, home to two Big East schools.

"I did think about Seton Hall and Rutgers," Martini allowed, but my father and I decided that leaving New Jersey would be the best thing for me. We thought it would be better if I got away from home, and got a real college experience."

For both father and son, that decision wasn't a difficult one once they begin looking at the other schools in the best basketball conference in the country.

"We looked at the program and liked it a lot," Martini said of his study of West Virginia. "The main reasons I decided to come here was the coach and the style of play. Plus, it's a good school."

So, as 2005-06 began, Martini found himself on the bench. Like all players in his position, he roots for WVU blowouts, as that is the only realistic chance he has of seeing game time. Four times this year, the stars and planets have aligned, and the walk-on has found himself on the floor of the Coliseum, living his dream of playing in the Big East. And while those brief periods of time add up to about one single shift of play for a Joe Herber or a J.D. Collins, they make all the difference to someone who has spent so much time just earning a spot on the team.

"It really helps," Martini said of those short appearances. "You do everything with the team and you want to be out there with them, so to get the chance to get out there for a few minutes is really great. It makes me feel like all the work has paid off."

For many, the chance to get on the floor in a live Division I basketball game, no matter the situation, would be an invitation to go a bit wild. Any touch of the ball would probably result in a shot attempt, a between the legs dribble, or some other action designed to garner a bit of notice. Martini, however, doesn't feel such temptation.

"It's not tough to stay under control," he said of his play, which guarantees to keep his anonymity as much as the lack of a name on the back of his number 10 jersey. "They [his teammates] all want me to go out there and chuck it," he said with a laugh, "but I'm out there to do what Coach Beilein tells me to do. He tells me to run the offense, so I run the offense. But if I'm open, I'll shoot it."

That chance has come just once so far, and resulted in a three-point attempt that narrowly missed, but the results of that one shot are nothing compared to what Martini has accomplished so far. He's beaten long odds to live his dream, and once bounce of the ball can certainly do nothing to diminish that.


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