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Kenyon Martin


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Thursday, March 10, 2005

What could have been?

Martin's injury in Memphis crushed hopes

By Bill Koch

Enquirer staff writer

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - If it wasn't the most devastating moment in University of Cincinnati basketball history, it ranked second to the Bearcats' meltdown against Loyola in the 1963 national championship game.

Five years ago Wednesday, UC center Kenyon Martin went down with a broken leg early in the Bearcats' Conference USA Tournament quarterfinal game at The Pyramid against Saint Louis, shattering No. 1-ranked UC's hopes of winning a national championship.

The Bearcats have returned to Memphis three times since then, but this is the first time they've been here for another conference tournament since that crushing injury.

"It was really hard because of my closeness to Kenyon," said UC coach Bob Huggins, when asked to reflect on that moment. "The only reason he came back (for his senior year) is because he wanted to spend another year with his teammates and win a national championship. That was the No. 1 goal in his mind. When I walked out on the floor, that was the first thing he said."

The Pyramid now sits empty along the banks of the Mississippi River, about 2 miles from FedExForum, the site of this year's tournament.

"That's why they shut down that other building," Huggins said.

Over the years, Huggins frequently has alluded to the Martin injury when asked about UC's recent history of losing in the first or second round of the NCAA Tournament. Without the injury to Martin, the national player of the year, the Bearcats were a lock for a No. 1 seed, which would have given them a legitimate chance to make a deep run in the Tournament.

"It hit all of us hard," Huggins said. "... In a lot of ways, it was really a very, very difficult thing, but I think the positive thing was when he went home, the affection the community showed for him was unbelievable.

"I've never seen anything like it. I walked into the office and we had more flowers and cards and things, you'd have thought he died."

Martin went on to become the first overall pick in the 2000 NBA draft and has had a successful NBA career, first with the New Jersey Nets and now with the Denver Nuggets.

UC has continued to win consistently and advanced the following season to the Sweet 16. But UC fans will always wonder what would have happened that year if Martin hadn't been hurt.

"We'd like to have won a national championship, that's for sure," Huggins said.

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