Gerard Martin to make long-awaited return to the hardwood

[dropcap]G[/dropcap]erard Martin hasn't played an organised game of basketball in two years. The wiry wing committed to Grand Canyon University 674 days ago, and things have not gone exactly to plan.

Gerard Martin | Photo credit: FIBA

[dropcap]R[/dropcap]ewind back to June, 2012.

As a key cog off the bench, Martin helped the Australian U17 men's team - a team that also featured Danté Exum and Ben Simmons - reach the championship game of the FIBA U17 World Championship, ultimately falling to a Jabari Parker-led USA squad.

That summer, Martin's good fortune continued. He was selected to the Australian U19 Emus squad, and received a scholarship to the illustrious Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra.

It was all looking up for the 6'6 Sydneysider, and things were seemingly getting better and better.

Fast-forward to July, 2013. After finishing an impressive campaign with the Australian U19 team - Martin averaged 4.8 ppg and 3.2 rpg as the Emus finished in an admirable 4th place - the swingman returned to the AIS with a number of colleges knocking at his door.

The likes of Auburn, New Mexico, Oregon State and Grand Canyon University were showing a lot of interest in Martin, and he was on top of the world.

2013 Australian U19 Emus | Photo credit: FIBA

That's when the first domino fell.

Martin suffered a stress fracture in his foot, an injury that would halt his development, and put a question mark in the minds of the schools intent on recruitment.

Although the injury would continue to cause issues for Martin for the rest of the year, he remained his usual up-beat self. He visited, and ultimately signed to Grand Canyon University - an up-and-coming program coached by former NBA star Dan Majerle.

They were recruiting me and I went on a visit in November and absolutely loved it. I committed at the end of my visit. There are big things happening and planned for GCU and I strongly encourage any one that is considering going to college to really look into this school. You will regret it later, if you don't.

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]fter finally getting over the niggling concerns that come with a stress fracture, Martin was looking ahead. Needless to say, he was genuinely excited to begin his college journey. However, just a few months before he was set to begin his freshman year for the Lopes, he suffered yet another setback.

Martin tore his ACL.

Having already been through a long and tedious rehab process just a few months earlier, Martin had to do it all over again.

"At first there was a lot of frustration and sadness as I knew there was a very long recovery time from ACL surgery," Martin recalled. "Also, I had a lot of self-doubt because I didn't know how my college would react to the news. But after some thinking, I had to be positive and just make the most of the bad situation."

At a time where Martin thought he'd be beginning his freshman season, he was instead forced to redshirt and slowly began another monotonous rehab program.

Photo credit: Luke Vanderzeil

Slowly but surely, he began to make improvements. After three months, Martin began running. Soon after, he was able to participate in light shooting. At the six-month mark, he embarked on non-contact individual training, and was able to return to full practice after nine months, something he attributes to willpower and the rehabilitation program at Grand Canyon.

There was a lot of doubt with the whole return, especially with my previous injury just before my knee. I don't think I had any doubt about coming back healthy, as the athletic training staff at GCU did an awesome job with my rehab, and I did everything in my power to come back healthy.

Physically, Martin was looking as good as ever, and was confident that he was 100% healthy. However, there was still some concern about whether the hiatus had affected his game.

The doubt was more in my ability to play at a high level again. I struggled a lot when I first came back and that was a very frustrating time. I overcame it through my support around me with my family, teammates, coaches and friends that all had confidence in me. Also just constantly working hard on my game and seeing small improvements overtime made me believe in myself again.

Photo credit: Luke Vanderzeil

[dropcap]J[/dropcap]ust as Martin finally made his return to basketball, his good friend, Danté Exum, suffered the same injury - tearing his ACL in a Boomers warmup game. Martin was quick to offer his support for his former teammate, showing confidence that the Utah Jazz point guard will come back better than ever.

"I've spoken to [Dante] in bits and pieces and he is in good spirits," Martin shared. "If anyone can overcome something like this, he is the one that will come back bigger, better, and stronger, and I know he will work his tail off to come back."

After a long two years not being able to play the game he loves at a high level, Martin has returned to training, and has even packed on some size. He'll be fighting for a starting spot in GCU's lineup, but is focused more on his team's success.

I don't have any individual goals, all I and our team want to do is win our conference every year, so after our tournament probation is over, we can dance a little in March.

Martin has been through every player's worst nightmare - twice - but, as expected, he's remained positive throughout the adversity. It would have been easy to throw in the towel, but Martin was able to find the light in what seemed like the darkest of situations.

The biggest thing I've taken away from this is that there are positives out of everything, and you can't take anything for granted. As much as it sucked not playing, I've definitely benefitted from the situation.

Welcome back, Gerard. It's been too long.