Tim Martin’s world has seemingly always had a basketball in it – from the time he was only 4 to now.
“That’s always been my thing,” he said.
It’s been a whirlwind existence – he had an early nomadic life, calling his mother a gypsy — for the former Rio Rancho High School basketball player, who graduated in 2005, and has included a bout with homelessness as well as training the most recent first pick in the NBA Draft, 7-foot, 5-inch Victor Wembanyama, whom many call Wemby.
He easily recalls those days of preparing for the basketball season during his days as a Ram, first under junior varsity coach Brian Smith, then varsity coach Vince Homer and, as a senior, under the late coach Joe Cantou.
“I remember a lot of hard work; a lot of early mornings, late nights, getting into the gym,” he said. “My nickname, just being ‘Coach’ early on, set the tone for my future.
“I miss it, man,” he added. “You don’t really appreciate the little things, like the atmosphere, when you’re young. As I got older, I missed the people, the food – Blake’s Lota Burger. All that good stuff, man.”
How did a Rio Rancho youngster – for five or six years, at least –rise to such prominence in the world of hoops?
Maybe two words answer that: hard work.
Even his Lincoln Middle School team required some element of hard work; Martin said his eighth-grade team Leopards went 17-0.
As a Ram, running those soft sand hills behind RRHS, plus a lot of hard work on the court, whether it was in an open gym first thing in the morning or in the evening.
The Rams of those days had limited success. Chris Williams, Santos Aragon and Brandon Thurmond were among the teammates he recalled; a couple years later, the Rams would win the 2007 state title under Smith, who succeeded Canto in time for the 2005-06 seasons.
Martin’s favorite memory of a Ram was hitting a 3-pointer in a key game vs. Valley; he also enjoyed playing games in Gallup, when the Bengals were in the same district, because of the passionate fan base there.
“I still want my ring,” Martin quipped. “We set the way for them, because we used to beat them in open gym. I’m proud of them, though.”
After graduation, he headed to New Mexico Junior College in the fall of 2005, planning to play basketball, but blew out his ankle in a hoop-it-up tournament.
“I went back to Dallas; I met my dad, when I graduated high school, for the first time, my biological dad. … So I moved back to Dallas and met that side of the family and, come to find out, a few of my cousins, Jeryl and Jason Sesser, who play in the NBA, and another cousin was a coach in the Dallas area.
So, he said, “I stopped playing college ball early on and got into coaching.”
What made him a good coach, he was asked.
“I was always the team captain and I was always very deliberate about how we do things, how we practice, attention to details. I remember those times I’d be coaching the bigs on how we need to set screens, like that, so I think just my passion to teach was always there – and then when I figured out I could make some money doing it, I thought, ‘Why not? Shoot, I can turn this into a business.”
That decision turned out well, but Martin says there’s something else that makes him good for his clients: “I care. Being sincere and being genuine, (I’m) someone who cares about them as people – with a lot of my players, we really don’t talk about basketball. On the court, we’ll talk about things we’ve got to get better at, but off the court, that’s where the real development comes in.”
Lately, with Wembanyama, whom he’s worked via Zoom during the pandemic, Martin would make about three trips to France every year to coach him and also worked with the giant future star in San Antonio.
And that’s not the only high-profile pro he’s worked with: His clients have included Dwyane Wade, Tracy McGrady, Trae Young (Martin started working with him when Young was an eighth-grader), Nic Claxton and Myles Turner; in addition to the French giant, he worked with almost a dozen players drafted and/or signed by NBA teams this year.
“Just the last six years, we’ve had 15 guys we helped develop, make it to the pros. And I’ve been running Dwyane Wade’s shoe company for the last seven years.
Maybe more important to Martin, though, with the players he works with, has been “off the court, that’s where the real development comes in.”
Sure, he finds time to work with his own son, Christian, also a basketball fanatic.
It’s been about three years since Martin has been in the City of Vision, where his adoptive father, John Finley, works for the City of Rio Rancho. Martin also has some uncles and cousins in the state and expressed hopes of returning to that (now brand-new gym) at Lincoln Middle School, to hold a basketball camp.
Credit Finley was a key assist in this story.
“I met Tim in 1989 when I was living in Arlington, Texas, and started dating his mom,” Finley recalled. “I was 19 years old at the time and Tim was 3; his mom and I married in 1990, and we had two sons together, Trent and Tyler Finley.
“Tim did not know his biological father until he graduated from high school. … We moved to Rio Rancho in 1991. Tim started showing interest in basketball at a very early age, excelled in the sport and taught me a lot about basketball as I would travel to all his games and watch him play,” Finley added. “Tim was always a good kid and easy to raise. I remarried in 2007, and my wife Michele and I are so happy and proud of Tim and his success.”
By the way, Rams fans from the middle of the century’s first decade, can thank Gary Tripp that Martin played for RRHS.
Not always seeing eye-to-eye with his Rams coaches, Martin thought about transferring to Rio Grande, where he could be a teammate of future Wake Forest cager Harvey Hale.
But, Martin said, he lived next to Tripp at the time, and that may have raised a few eyebrows over at the New Mexico Activities Association, where Tripp was the executive director.
Analogous to James Earl Jones’ passionate quote about baseball – “the one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball” – Martin’s passion for basketball is summed up like this: “Because we moved so much, that was the only consistent thing I had to occupy (my time). We didn’t have iPads and stuff like that. When you’re living in a lot of rural areas, and you don’t really have a lot of friends growing up, basketball’s been one thing that always allowed me to meet new people and kinda just keep my mind occupied. So that was always a point of my life, since I was 4 years old.”
Martin can still play the game, he said. “I still got to show them a little thing,” he said. “I still got some moves. I’m the wily old veteran – I got a nice move that I don’t think anybody can stop … maybe Wemby.
“He’s a great kid – I’ve been working with him since he was 15 years old.”
Who would’ve guessed the City of Vision would have a connection to the NBA?