But before being the Big East’s returning leading scorer, before being named an Associated Press Honorable Mention All-America selection last year, before being a unanimous preseason Big East selection this year, and before being nominated to the Wooden Award Preseason Top 30 this year, there was Nicholasville, Kentucky.
The driveway leading up the Martin’s residence in Nicholasville is lined with sweet gum trees on either side of it. Sweet gum trees do not have extensive root systems, but an extensive root system above ground in Nicholasville helped form the groundwork for the game Martin would eventually take to DePaul.
Martin’s dad, Charles Martin, poured the basketball court in the Martin’s backyard for he and wife Jennifer Martin’s oldest child, son Chase. Martin was not far behind her brother.
“I have fond memories of my husband, Chase, [middle child] Leah, and Anna playing games of basketball,” Jennifer said. “Of course, with Anna being the youngest, she was never allowed to win; she learned toughness very early.”
The backyard games evolved to organized basketball under the tutelage of Charles and Chase.
“When I was in fifth grade, we had an organized church league with two or three teams of basketball and my brother and my dad, in different years, coached me,” Martin said.
And family friction? Forget it.
“I feel like a lot of players feel pressure if their dad is coaching them or that their dad or brother are really hard on them, but I never felt that way with them,” Martin said.
“They were always overly supportive, but they would always ask me to do things like make everyone feel comfortable or help another girl so she would not feel left out. At that age, that is an important thing, and I feel like that has transcended since I have gotten older.”
Growing up in basketball-crazed Kentucky, one of Martin’s rites of passage should probably have been expected.
Enter Tayshaun Prince.
On December 8, 2001, Charles took his youngest daughter to her first University of Kentucky basketball game, with North Carolina facing Kentucky in Rupp Arena.
“When my dad got those two tickets, and it was time to go to the game, it was just like life was perfect; it was that big of a deal to me,” said Martin.
Prince was a great player at Kentucky, but no one could have anticipated what he did that afternoon in front of 23,153 fans.
He sank his first five three-point attempts, the last one launched from between half court and the arc.
“At that moment I think my little girl wanted to dedicate herself to playing at the highest level,” said Charles.
“At the game with my dad, I just recall Tayshaun hitting those five three-pointers and all of Rupp Arena erupting, and me looking at my dad like ‘I want to do this and to see myself out there,” Martin said.
“It is always awesome to watch basketball with my dad. He notices the little things that we always talk about.”
And so the fire was lit for Anna Martin, but it still needed tending.
“My parents did not want me to play high school basketball until I was in high school, and that was hard for me because all of my friends were doing that,” said Martin.
Martin then met her eighth grade coach and started working out with him on her own. That coach also worked out some players that went to Lexington Christian Academy, where Martin would eventually enroll. It was during those workouts where Martin would hear a name that would continue that flame.
Jennifer Martin perhaps explains it best: “Donna has been Anna’s mentor, supporter, and confidant. She is one of Anna’s biggest fans and the admiration goes both ways.”
Donna Murphy averaged 35 points and 20 rebounds her senior year at Newport High School. In her first game in Kentucky’s Sweet Sixteen tournament in 1975 she scored 42 points and grabbed 25 rebounds, helping her to be named Kentucky’s first Miss Basketball. She went on to play at Morehead State and was named the Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year.
“I heard a lot of good things about Coach Murphy and I was deciding about which high school to go to at the time, and that is how I met her,” said Martin.
“When Anna was younger I had asked her if she wanted to play in college,“ said Murphy. “She did, so I explained to her about the different levels and asked her what level, and she said major Division I. So I told her what it would take to play at that level and she was on a mission to make that happen.”
Murphy coached Martin during Martin’s freshman year, with Lexington Christian Academy advancing to a Sweet Sixteen berth that year. She also coached Martin in AAU ball for the next three years.
“She was a hard coach,” said Martin. “I was like a sponge with her because I knew how good she was, and she is a legend in Kentucky. I knew I wanted to be good and I knew she would help me get there. So after my freshman year at Lexington Christian Academy our friendship really evolved.”
That both Murphy and Martin, unbeknownst to one another, use the word “sponge” when describing Martin’s desire to learn the game even further is solid evidence of their close relationship.
The bond that Martin and Murphy share transcends 94 feet.
“She is one of the biggest mentors in my life,” said Martin. “She is almost a part of my family now. She is a great person and I am lucky to have her in my life.”
“There are tough situations in life and I know I can talk to her and she will give me great advice. It’s not always the advice I want to hear, but she will always be sure to tell me what I need to here.”
Poa pratensis is its horticultural name. Its common name is Kentucky bluegrass. It is grown only with extensive irrigation.
And so too was the role that the Martin family and Donna Murphy had in helping Anna Martin grow into something that Bruno and women’s college basketball would eventually learn, something that Murphy distills to its essence.
“Anna is the real deal.”