Martin senior shooting guard Nick Babb is preparing for the future but still taking the time to savor the present.
On a Tuesday night in early February, he emerged from the visitors’ locker room at Lamar High School wearing a University of Arkansas T-shirt over his Warriors game jersey. Just minutes earlier, Babb had poured in 16 points and efficiently run the Martin offense to lead his team to its fifth consecutive district victory.
Despite the team’s 18-7 record, Babb and his teammates had just one loss in 3-5A play heading into Tuesday night’s regular-season finale against Bowie. The winner of the game won the district championship, but both teams head into the postseason expecting to make a deep push. That is to say, Babb isn’t ready to trade high school hoops for the Southeastern Conference just yet.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Babb said. “Me and my teammates and coach [Jeff] Plemons have had a great year. Even though we have some ups and downs in practice and games, we’ve just tried to come together as a team, and we’ve gotten closer. I’m trying to enjoy every last minute, knowing this is my last year of high school. I’m just trying to enjoy it.”
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Babb, the team’s leading scorer, has always been a capable ball handler. But this season, Plemons has entrusted him to bring the ball up on most possessions. Against Lamar, Babb consistently found open teammates for easy shots. And he still found plenty of chances to knock down shots of his own.
“I feel like I can get it and initiate the offense,” Babb said. “My teammates trust me with the ball, so I think it’s best for our team for me to distribute, knowing I’m a pretty good passer.”
Babb’s versatility as a passer and shooter should serve him well at Arkansas, so his expanded role in Martin’s offense is in a sense his way to get ready for the next level.
“I’m preparing for college,” Babb said. “I’m getting ready for the future.”
The Warriors’ playoff fate isn’t tied just to Babb’s versatile skills. Team defense and rebounding have helped the Warriors overcome a challenging nondistrict slate to win 12 of 13 games heading into their showdown against Bowie.
Since the start of district play, Martin is limiting opponents to less than 40 percent shooting and around 40 points a game. Each of Martin’s nondistrict victories was by double digits. Its lone district loss, against Bowie, was by two points.
“Our kids have locked arms and pulled together,” Plemons said. “Our defense has improved tremendously from the beginning of the season until now.”
Plemons credits post players Patrick Burk and Myles Garrett with improving Martin’s offense with their inside scoring.
“We’ve got good guards,” Plemons said. “We’ve been able to shoot the ball a little. But being able to get the ball inside more consistently is kind of opening things up for us.”
Last year, Martin relied on speed and guard play, Babb said. Burk’s and Garrett’s post play has made Martin more versatile and more difficult for opponents to deal with.
“This year we are pretty well-rounded,” Babb said. “Last year, we were small and fast and just wanted to run. This year we have a lot of options we can go to.”