By Robin Fambrough
July 15, 2012
With the NBA Finals now in high gear, there is plenty of debate about whose “Big Three” is better. Is it Miami or Oklahoma City?
More than 600 miles away from the site of the first two NBA Finals games, another “Big Three” has dreams and aspirations.
The key to success for Baton Rouge’s terrific trio of seniors-to-be — Brian Bridgewater, Jarell Martin and Damien Jones — is to stay grounded as much as possible. That is, when they’re not elevating for a slam dunk.
“I really look forward to the future,” Martin said. “There are so many possibilities out there. I’d like my game to be like Kevin Durant’s (Oklahoma City star).
“There are plenty of things I have to learn. That’s why I keep working at it every day.”
The 6-foot-9½ Martin played high school basketball for the first time in 2011-12 at Class B Madison Prep and is now racing up the lists of the nation’s top prospects, landing in the top 25 on many charts.
Scotlandville High’s Jones, who stands 6-9, can no longer be considered a role player who primarily blocks shots for the defending Class 5A state champions. He has soared into the top 50 on some recruiting lists.
Bridgewater (6-5), of Class 2A Episcopal, was considered the nation’s top eighth-grader and top freshman and is now in the top 50.
The brother of former LSU player Brad Bridgewater is also a highly regarded football prospect as a tight end, giving Baton Rouge perhaps its most versatile athlete since Michael Clayton (Christian Life) and Marcus Spears (Southern Lab) were prep football-basketball standouts a decade ago.
Three players with three different and compelling stories.
Out of the shadows
Jones is not as well known as Bridgewater or Martin. In fact, he will become a full-time starter for the Hornets this season.
As a part-time starter in 2011-12, Jones averaged eight points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots per game. He wowed the crowd at Louisiana Tech with some impressive rejections in Scotlandville’s 5A title-game win over McKinley.
At times, Jones showed the ability to take control of a game. In 2012-13, the Hornets will rely on Jones and 6-8 senior Jared Sam to do just that.
“The big thing we’ve been working on in summer league is getting Damien and Jared into their new roles,” Scotlandville coach Carlos Sample said. “They won’t be role players any more, and they’re going to be relied on to do a lot more.
“To me, the things that have made Damien come this far are his work ethic and his attitude. It’s something his parents have instilled in him. He understood that this (basketball) was a process. And he’s managed it.”
An honor student with a 4.5 grade-point average, Jones credits Sample and the Scotlandville coaches for helping him improve. He plans to major in electrical engineering.
“In the last year, I got better at scoring the ball,” Jones said. “And my defense improved, too. I learned when to block shots.
“If a play develops slowly, I can usually block the shot. When the shooter drives in fast, it’s better to hold your ground and put your hands up.”
Jones has approximately 15 scholarship offers, including LSU, Florida, Vanderbilt, Stanford and Texas.
This summer, Jones said, he plans to work on improving his footwork, ball-handling and jump shooting. He also has an internship with Exxon-Port Allen.
“I haven’t done a lot with the recruiting process yet,” Jones said. “I want to wait and see how things play out this summer and during the season.”
Always a natural
Madison Prep coach Jeffery Jones refers to Episcopal’s Bridgewater as the role model for Martin and others.
“Brian was the player Jarell and other kids have always looked up to,” Madison Prep coach Jeffery Jones said. “He’s been on a national stage since he was in middle school.”
However, at 6-5, Bridgewater is considered to be a classic “tweener” who will more than likely be a shooting guard or small forward in college.
Bridgewater made his mark last fall by compiling more than 500 receiving yards in his first football season, and with a 240-pound frame, he is now a top tight end prospect In basketball, he netted all-state honors for the third time with averages of 23.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.
“Right now, I plan to look at my performance this summer in basketball,” Bridgewater said. “And I’ve been talking to my brothers a lot. I rely on my family a lot when it comes to decision making, but at the end of the day, it’s got to be my choice.
“I loved football last year. My teammates were great. When I got back into basketball, I had to readjust myself to not be as physical. I could see myself playing either sport.”
Brothers Brad and Sean (former University High player) are a source of wisdom. Clayton, an ex-LSU star who played for the New York Giants last season, is a cousin and another potential sounding board.
“Brian’s got a tough decision to make, and he’s gathering all the information he can, which is smart,” Episcopal coach Chris Beckman said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that he can play college basketball at the highest level. The thing he is looking to show people this summer is that he can play on the perimeter, handle the ball and make 3-pointers consistently.
“There are so many options for him. Everybody has seen what basketball guys like Jimmy Graham (Saints tight end) and Antonio Gates (Chargers tight end) have done. At the same time, basketball is his passion.”
LSU and Arizona are among the major schools that have offered Bridgewater scholarships in football and basketball.
A major measuring stick for Bridgewater comes this week. He and Martin are participating in the NBA Top 100 camp in for Charlottesville, Va., that began Wednesday and runs through Saturday.
The rising star
Martin wasn’t one of the players everyone looked at four years ago. As an eighth-grader, he was 5-11. He grew to 6-4 and weighed 160 during his freshman year at Glen Oaks, but didn’t play basketball.
“Basketball really became a priority for Jarell in the last 18 months,” Jones said. “He transferred to our school as a sophomore and had to sit out and he continued to grow.
“As he grew, Jarell could see a future in basketball, and he started working harder and harder. He’s humble, and he’s like a sponge ... he absorbs everything you tell him. Now it’s hard to run him out of the gym.”
A year ago, Martin started attracting attention as a 6-6 player in summer camps. By the time the 2011-12 prep season started, he was 6-8. He is now a little more than 6-9½ and weighs 223 pounds, thanks to workouts with Olympic powerlifting coach Gayle Hatch.
Martin has approximately 50 scholarship offers, including a recent offer from UCLA. LSU, Louisville, Arizona, Ohio State and Baylor have already offered. As a junior, Martin was voted the Class B MVP after leading Madison Prep to the semifinals with averages 26 points and 17 rebounds.
“Playing high school basketball is a lot different than AAU ball,” Martin said. “There’s more strategy and a lot more discipline involved.
“I don’t think you ever reach a point where you’re totally satisfied with the your game. I’ve been working on getting physically stronger over the last few months. As I do that, I want the other parts of my game to mature, too.”
Bridgewater is on track to the NCAA’s academic eligibility standards. Martin, who has worked on his academics and his game, needs to raise his core GPA as a senior. Both are planning business majors.
And like Bridgewater, Martin hasn’t set a definite timetable to make a college decision.
In the meantime, Baton Rouge’s “Big Three” will likely give fans and recruiters plenty to talk about.
“It’s been awhile since Baton Rouge has had three guys of this caliber who will all be seniors at the same time,” Episcopal’s Beckman said. “It’s going to be something.”