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Dishing dimes: DWU's Martin orchestrates Tigers' high-octane offense

Tate Martin's winters are spent running the point at the Corn Palace, but there was a time when they were spent in a hockey rink. Martin will forever be associated with delivering crisp passes and knocking down smooth jumpers for both Mitchell Hi...

Dakota Wesleyan senior Tate Martin is the key man for the Tigers. Martin already holds the school record for assists in a season and career as the Tigers will host Northwestern in the regular season finale tonight at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Dakota Wesleyan senior Tate Martin poses for a photo earlier this month. Martin already holds the school record for assists in a season and career as the Tigers will host Northwestern in the regular-season finale tonight at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Tate Martin's winters are spent running the point at the Corn Palace, but there was a time when they were spent in a hockey rink.

Martin will forever be associated with delivering crisp passes and knocking down smooth jumpers for both Mitchell High School and Dakota Wesleyan University. But Martin almost never picked up basketball.

"I played soccer and hockey a lot as a kid and to tell you the truth, soccer was my sport for the longest time," Martin said. "Then I played hockey up until about eighth grade and growing up in a basketball town with coach (Gary) Munsen coaching the high school team, it was kind of like a no-brainer to go over to the basketball side of things."

Martin, 23, played hoops sparingly growing up, but never organized. One of his first introductions to the sport was attending a youth camp put on by Munsen. Martin's first season of organized basketball was his eighth-grade season and he was hooked immediately.

"Once I kind of picked up the ball and started playing with those guys as a kid, something clicked and I fell in love with the sport and I just never really turned back," Martin said.

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Playing with the likes of Jade Miller, Matt Henriksen, Tucker Volesky, Brady Maxwell and Brian Maxwell, Martin quickly realized what his role would be: pass the ball.

"I just kind of learned to distribute the ball and not really look at myself as a scorer-first," Martin said. "I just kind of naturally became a pass-first point guard and I bought into it, I loved it and we were successful. We won a lot of games."

The Kernels went a combined 42-8 his junior and senior seasons, which included a pair of back-to-back state runner-up finishes. He was an all-conference selection his senior year.

Martin was also a regular on the AAU traveling basketball scene, playing for both the South Dakota Heat and Mitchell native Mike Miller's team M33M.

However, the 5-foot-11 speedy point guard was still not highly recruited. He decided to leave Mitchell and join the University of Mary, an NCAA Division II school in Bismarck, North Dakota. After a semester, he moved back home and joined the Tigers, who were then coached by Shane Murphy.

After Murphy resigned after that season, Matt Wilber was hired in 2013. Wilber felt the team was thin at the guard spot and he brought in transfer Brandon Robinson to compete for the starting point guard job.

But the hometown kid won the starting spot.

He was then relegated to the bench his sophomore season after being beat out for the starting job by one-year transfer Joey Mitchell.

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The Tigers were winning, but Martin wasn't playing as much as the previous year.

"That year was tough on him through a lot of it," Wilber said. "Even though we were winning, it was tough on him, but it was good for him. I knew when he was going through it, I just had a really strong feeling that this was going to be better for him for his career for our next two years."

Wilber was right.

The Tigers have continued to win games the past two seasons with Martin manning the lead guard spot. After DWU finished as the national runner-up his sophomore season, the Tigers qualified for the national tournament again last year. The No. 7 Tigers are currently 21-8 entering tonight's showdown against No. 20 Northwestern College at the Corn Palace.

Martin is DWU's all-time leader in career assists (805) and assists in a season (259). He's scored 1,204 points, which is 36th on the DWU scoring list. He's currently second in the nation in assists per game (nine) and third on the team in scoring (14.5).

The Tigers are also the No. 5 scoring team in the nation (91.7). And with Martin doing a bulk of the ball handling, the Tigers are tops in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.10).

"He makes the machine go," Hastings College coach Bill Gavers said. "(DWU) is really efficient offensively and a lot of that is Tate Martin. Don't get me wrong, (DWU forward Jason) Spicer is really good inside. The shooters around them are very good, but the decision maker and the decision making, puts guys in good spots."

Wilber, a longtime coach and former basketball instructor, said Martin is the best passer he's ever seen. But now Martin has added other dimensions to his game.

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"His shooting really progressed and has progressed over his career," Wilber said. "He's worked on that, but with the ball he has always been really good and he's gotten better too with that obviously through his career."

As far as the assists go, Martin fittingly passes off the credit to the all-conference, all-state and All-American teammates he's played with.

"I don't look at the assists numbers as my own accomplishments," Martin said. "I kind of credit a lot of the guys that I have played with. I have had teammates at DWU that have made passing the ball incredibly easy."

With his career coming to a close, Martin is trying to cherish every minute as a Tiger. He will still remain around the sport after this season. He plans on being a graduate assistant next season or possibly even playing overseas.

But for now, he's focused on the task at hand. The Tigers appear headed for another trip to Branson, Missouri, which is the site of the national tournament.

"I am just really happy that we have stuff to play for still," Martin said. "We have a chance to go play at the national tournament, which guys on our team need to experience. It is awesome. It's coming to an end, but we still have a lot to play for."

And it's safe to say Wilber will miss having Martin running the point at the Corn Palace.

"We have such a good relationship," Wilber said. "Outside of his performance, our day-to-day stuff has been such a blessing. It has just been so great to have him around. It is pretty easy to say I love that kid."

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