Newcomer running the show

Deonte’ Martinez is embracing the spotlight with Magi basketball

Justin Martinez/MDN Deonte Martinez (23) dribbles the ball down the court during Minot High’s home game against Bismarck High on Jan. 9.

Deonte’ Martinez is the one of the shortest, youngest and more inexperienced players on the Minot High School boys basketball team.

But none of that is going to stop him.

Standing at five feet and nine inches, the sophomore guard — one of only two sophomores on the roster — has come up big for the Magicians in the early going of the season. In his first year of varsity basketball, Martinez is holding down the starting point guard position while averaging 14 points per game.

The 15-year-old athlete is a blur, speeding down the court and stopping on a dime for a number of highlight-reel crossovers that bring the crowd to its feet and nearly knock the defender off theirs.

“(Martinez) is a dynamic, dynamic athlete,” MHS head coach Dean Winczewski said. “He’s really good at creating opportunities for himself, and he gives us more balance.”

Justin Martinez/MDN Deonte Martinez elevates from the baseline for a close-range jumper during Minot High’s home game against Turtle Mountain Community HS on Jan. 8.

Martinez’s journey to donning the white and maroon jersey stretches thousands of miles.

A California native, Martinez first began playing basketball at the age of five. His love for the sport got handed down to him from his father, who played collegiate ball.

With Martinez’s father being in the Air Force, he and his family moved around a lot. Most recently, he spent four years in Japan before coming to Minot for his freshman year.

After playing a year on the freshman team, Martinez earned his spot on the varsity roster and even cracked the starting lineup for the season opener against Williston on Dec. 4, 2018.

The game got off to a shaky start for the sophomore, as he overthrew a pass on the first possession that resulted in a quick turnover.

“It was a big jump (from the freshman team),” Martinez said. “I just remember being so nervous in the beginning (against Williston), but as the game went on I just got less nervous and started playing my game.”

Sure enough, Martinez began to heat up.

The sophomore finished off acrobatic layups, drilled floaters and knocked down free throws for a total of 18 points — which tied junior guard Jaxon Gunville for a game high — in the 77-53 victory.

“That game helped me a lot,” Martinez said. “I just felt so much more confident afterwards, and that carried over into the next few games.”

Martinez was only getting started.

His high point of the season came on Dec. 18 when he torched the Mandan Braves for a career-high 31 points. With the exception of one made three-pointer and three trips to the charity stripe, Martinez did all of his damage by fearlessly attacking the Mandan bigs and finishing strong at the rim.

Although the Magi lost, 86-83, the strong individual performance cemented Martinez’s role with the team as one of its go-to playmakers.

But Martinez’s season hasn’t gone without its learning curves. The most notable rough patch came against Watford City on Dec. 21, when he managed just four points on 2-for-7 shooting in the 76-52 win. For a young player loaded with raw talent, nights like that are simply part of the process.

“People don’t understand how challenging it is to run a basketball team (as a point guard),” Winczewski said. “There are going to be some bumps in the road, but he’s getting more vocal, and his teammates trust him. He just has to continue to build on what he’s doing.”

For Martinez, that trust goes both ways. With the team boasting a 5-2 record to start the season, Martinez hopes to continue to make strides as he adjusts to the challenges that come with being a key contributor for the Magi.

“(Varsity basketball) is a very different pace,” Martinez said. “But I just have to keep working hard in practice and keep learning from my teammates. I know Coach (Winczewski) is going to put us in the right places, and the rest will just come.”

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