After rise up draft boards, former UConn guard Tyrese Martin is ready to prove himself in the NBA

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Tyrese Martin sat alone with his thoughts in his childhood bedroom in Allentown, Pa., and tried to process the previous night’s events.

The former UConn guard still couldn’t believe the Atlanta Hawks had traded for him after the Golden State Warriors selected him with the 51st overall pick in the second round of the NBA draft Thursday.

“It felt surreal almost to hear my name,” Martin told The Courant. “After everything I had been through and overcame, every opportunity I took advantage of, just to sit back and see how far I’ve come, it was great.”

Despite averaging a career-high 13.6 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting 43% from 3 in the 2021-22 season, Martin wasn’t on many draft boards in March. It was his post-collegiate play that drew the eyes of teams.

He was named to the Portsmouth Invitational all-tournament team, which led to an invitation to the NBA’s G League Elite Camp. After a stellar performance that included 13 points and 14 rebounds in a single scrimmage game, he was one of the seven players chosen from the camp to participate in the NBA Combine.

By mid-June, draft experts considered him a sleeper pick and projected late second round in some mock drafts. By the end of Thursday night, he was the only Big East player drafted.

“I wasn’t one of those that was on the draft board projected to be drafted, but I always believed in myself,” Martin said. “I always bet on myself. Every opportunity post-college, I took advantage of it. I knew what was at stake at that time in my life.

“I was getting right there in that moment where you either have to do it now, or it’s going to be a different route I have to take. I made things happen to put myself in a great position to get drafted on draft night.”

The UConn coaching staff felt Martin was an NBA player early into last season.

“For me, it was going back to the Bahamas and the way that he played against high-level players,” said UConn assistant coach Luke Murray. “The Auburn game, the Michigan State game, the play he makes against Michigan State where he switches out on a screen, blocks the shot and goes down on the other end and dunks it. That’s the type of play you see NBA wing players make.

“I was always surprised he didn’t have a little more attention from NBA people throughout the course of the year and even within his own conference. He wasn’t named to an All-Big East team which was surprising to all of us.”

Out of the three teams most interested in him (Orlando Magic, San Antonio Spurs and the Hawks), only Atlanta worked out Martin.

“I didn’t expect it [to be drafted], but I knew they [the Hawks] were interested in me,” he said.

Though Martin was the only Husky drafted, his former teammates also received some opportunities. Forward Isaiah Whaley agreed to an Exhibit-10 (nonguaranteed) contract with the Charlotte Hornets, while guard R.J. Cole will play on the Los Angeles Lakers’ NBA Summer League team.

“It means a lot,” said Martin regarding his former teammates receiving contracts. “Those are guys I was in the trenches with in the summers and not going home. Doing three-a-days in the summers when we don’t have official team practices. We put in all that extra time in the summers and offseason for moments like this. I couldn’t be more proud of them.

“It also goes to show a credit to UConn. You know, Coach Hurley, Kimani [Young], [Tom] Moore and Murray and just making sure UConn got back to where it used to be in player development.”

Martin envisions a similar role in the pros to the one he filled at UConn.

“The Hawks told me they want me to go in and be myself,” he said, “the same guy I was in college. The dog that rebounded on both sides and versatility with defense, be able to make the open 3. That’s who I am. That’s why they want me, and that’s what they picked me to do.”

At the introductory press conference, Hawks general manager Landry Fields praised Martin and first-round pick A.J. Griffin’s skills.

“Both of these guys are going to add a level of versatility to our group,” Fields said. “Both are able to shoot the ball. At the end of the day, they bring a level of toughness and character that we really want and covet here in Atlanta that we want in our locker room.”

Martin’s first real test with the Hawks begins when he travels to Las Vegas for the NBA Summer League, which runs from July 7-17.

Making the final NBA roster is a challenge for any second-round pick, but Martin is ready to showcase to Atlanta fans why he rose up draft boards.

“I’m a dog, and I am going to work,” he said. “I am willing to do whatever it takes to win. This is what I envisioned this whole journey being. I was willing to do whatever it takes to get here. Winning is the ultimate goal for me. I want to bring my toughness. The organization is big on that. Atlanta is getting a workaholic and a tough guy.”

Shreyas Laddha can be reached at sladdha@courant.com or @shre98 on Twitter.