Martinez Harper hoops his way to UCA, signing with Bears
The former Marion Patriot signed a national letter of intent last weekend to join the University of Central Arkansas
After a long summer of waiting, one of Marion High School’s most electrifying players last season has a college home as recent Marion graduate Martinez Harper signed a scholarship offer to play basketball for the University of Central Arkansas Bears next season.
Any anxiety over the time it took for Martinez to sign a national letter of intent soon washed away as soon as he inked his name, according to the former Patriots shooting guard.
“It feels good,” Harper said. “I was excited. I had smiles for days.”
Harper says it was the impression made by UCA head coach Russ Pennell that convinced the 6-foot-1 sharpshooter to pull the trigger on joining the Bears.
“They have a really good program and, when I went up there, (Pennell) really pushed me in the workouts and he made everything really competitive and I liked that,” Harper said.
“He’s been talking to me ever since I filled out the paper work to go up there.”
Last season with Marion, according to Harper, the future Bear pumped in 15 points a game to go along with five rebounds and four assists per contest.
Most of those points for Harper came from behind the three-point line as the sniper consistently channeled his inner Stephen Curry for long-range daggers, an area of his game which he credits his personal trainer Emmanuel Cheers and Marion Junior High Coach Johnny Washington for helping him perfect.
“I do all type of workouts that come from coming off screens and (Cheers) makes me get real tired and shoot the ball to where I have to get lift on my shot,” Harper said. “After I’m free, I wait two hours and come up here to Marion with Coach Washington and shoot on the gun. So, my eyes just stay locked on the rim and it feels like money every time I let it go.”
Though even in the classroom, Harper, who boast a 3.1 GPA, still finds time to perfect his craft on the court. Marion science teacher and Lady Patriots softball coach Sean Gray recounts times when Harper would break from his classwork to swish a crumpled up piece of paper into the trash can.
“I can just be thinking about basketball in class,” Harper said. “Any of my teachers can tell you that if I finish my work, or even if I’m in the middle of a test, I’ll probably just raise up, shoot and go right back to working. I just never stop thinking about basketball.”
While Harper’s perimeter shooting game will surely as good if not better than any of his peers at UCA, the future Bear does hope to improve his ball-handling skills in preparation to help those teammates get cleaner looks themselves.
“I’m fast, but I need to work on my ball handling so that I won’t be so wild all over the court,” Harper said. “This year, a whole bunch of people set charges on me. So, I think that’s one area that I could really work on is my ball handling and my pull-up too, so that I can make the easy jumps shots and make my all-around game better and make the game easier on myself.”
Harper says that he’s going to miss the Patriots coaches and the Marion crowd, but that he is brining lofty goals with him to his freshman season at UCA.
“We’ve got a great group of guys coming in, not including myself, and coach is going to push us and we’re trying to win it all this year,” Harper said.
By Collins Peeples