Favorite athlete: Antonio Brown
Favorite team: Steelers
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: 11-year old baseball, on my all-star team and we were in states in Pittsburgh, and everyone knows who the goofballs are on the team. So we are in I.O. We are doing throws from the outfield, and the one kid bobbles the ball, and my coach says, ‘Throw it in,’ so he does, and it goes over the backstop and out of the field. That actually made the team relax because it was such a bad throw.
Music on mobile device: Top five people I listen to: 1. Travis Scott 2. Migos 3. Drake 4. Lil Yachty 5. Rich the Kid
Future plans: Go to Gwynedd Mercy University and continue my baseball and academic careers
Favorite motto: “Two options in life: GO HARD or GO HOME”
One goal before turning 30: Visit the top five major cities in the USA
One thing people don’t know about me: I started playing basketball in fifth grade.
By Ed Morrone
After graduation gutted the Pennsbury boys’ basketball team following the 2016-17 school year, Bill Coleman wasn’t sure what to expect heading into this season.
What the Falcons’ head coach did know was that he was lacking your traditional basketball players, replaced by a bunch of kids who simply play basketball. They were scrappy, they were tough and they worked their butts off, but how far would those intangibles take the team?
Enter Jake Martell, who was happy to provide some answers to that question.
The Pennsbury senior is perhaps more known for his talents on the baseball diamond than the hardwood, which is understandable when considering the baseball program won league, district and state titles last season. But Martell is also a kid who plays basketball, and that was more than enough for the Pennsbury program to retain respectability.
“I don’t consider myself a basketball player, just one who plays basketball,” Martell said. “There’s a certain amount of effort and focus it takes to understand the vocabulary, the play calls, the way you’re supposed to rotate off screens. It’s about showing the young guys how to play with max effort all the time, especially on defense.
“Coleman harps on defense, and I took it to the extent of, if someone scores on me, it’s a problem. If I missed a rotation on defense, it’s a problem. Everything matters, and the effort and energy I put in, that feeds into the younger players. Balls to the wall, together all the time … that’s how you’re supposed to play.”
Coleman said that Martell stands 5-foot-8 “on a good day.” But the coach also seems to buy into the old cliché of it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog, and Martell epitomized that work ethic to an inexperienced team that sorely needed it.
The Falcons were counted out by most so-called basketball experts who predicted the rebuilding program wouldn’t make much noise in the challenging Suburban One League. The players noticed and went into the season with basketball-sized chips on their shoulders. That isn’t to say Pennsbury had championship aspirations, but at the same time, the team felt it wasn’t getting a fair shake before anyone even saw what the players were capable of.
“The writers were hating on us, I think they picked us to finish fifth in the SOL (National Conference),” Martell said. “I knew we were going to be good eventually, but there was no hype.”
When all was said and done, Pennsbury finished second in the conference, posting an 8-4 league mark and 13-10 overall record. It was good enough for a postseason berth in the district tournament, but things didn’t start out so swimmingly. The Falcons dropped five of their first six games and made it seem like the prognosticators were onto something.
But then, something changed. There were no switches flipped or tangible ‘Ah-ha!’ moments that helped the team snap out of its funk; rather, it was more a matter of Martell and his teammates needing time to find their identity.
“Our schedule was pretty front-loaded,” he said. “Once we got back-to-back wins (on Dec. 29 and 30), things clicked. I started to score and hit shots and make plays. After that stretch, we started to dig in and become a family, a band of brothers fighting for each other.”
If you’re searching for a fighter, look no further than Martell. Not in the literal sense, mind you, but more so a kid who has been counted out on the basketball court his entire life, one who finally got tired of hearing he wasn’t tall enough or good enough.
“At the beginning of the year, our kids had no idea what to expect and what it took to be successful at our level,” Coleman said. “They had no varsity experience, and so it took the seniors we did have time to really figure it out.
“Honestly, Jake’s a baseball player. He plays basketball, but it’s not his true focus. What sets him apart is not his skill, but his toughness, his heart. When you have a kid willing to dive on the floor for every loose ball and do every little thing possible to win a game, it sets you apart. What the other guys took from Jake was his effort and toughness; when he wasn’t on the floor, you could see a drop off. Here’s a kid who will run through a wall for everyone on the team to the point where they say, ‘OK, let’s all do it.’ He threw everything he had into every game, and it was a lot of fun to watch as the year progressed.”
From Dec. 29 to Jan. 20, the Falcons won eight of nine games, establishing themselves as a contender in the process. Martell averaged somewhere between six and seven points a game to go along with approximately four assists and three rebounds, and his production only increased the more Pennsbury won.
Martell said this solid basketball season almost didn’t happen. He gave a lot of thought to quitting during junior year, which coincided with his rise as a serious baseball player. He knew it was more realistic for him to play baseball at the college level, something that proved to be true when he opted to continue his baseball and academic careers at Gwynedd Mercy University beginning in the fall.
But at the same time, he just couldn’t walk away from the basketball program. Perhaps it was that insatiable desire to prove himself to his coaches, his teammates, his peers…even himself.
“I just wanted to fight my way through it, which is why I stuck with it through those tough early years,” Martell said. “I always knew that I could impact the game, even if that was just me pushing other guys to make them better. I know I’m smaller, and I’m also realistic, so I knew I had to work out and lift to put on more weight so I could use my size more efficiently. My training is a credit to my mentality to dominate and be a killer (in the athletic arena), no matter what. I never back down to any player, never been scared of any opponent, and that mentality makes me the player and person I am. It’s been my story all along: prove myself through basketball.”
Martell has come a long way since he first started playing basketball as a fifth-grader in the Pennsbury Rec League. Having played T-ball since he was 3 years old, Martell always seemed to have baseball figured out, so he took basketball on as his own personal challenge to himself. He languished within the JV program through junior year, impatiently waiting for a growth spurt as well as a chance to show the coaches what he could do if they fully unleashed him on the court.
Coleman saw the potential early on and kept Martell around the program even though there wasn’t a varsity spot available.
“It took a little bit of time for him to understand what it took,” Coleman said. “Our program is the hunted all the time. Jake only averaged 6.5 points per game, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you consider where he started and how far he’s come … it’s just a credit to who he is. As the year went on, he really set a positive example for the younger kids. If you work hard and do what the coaches are asking, positives will come out. By the end of our season, he was our best player and our leader on the floor. It shows how determined he is, as well as his fight and heart for the sport he’s playing.”
Martell’s dedication to his secondary sport spoke volumes, as the Falcons ultimately became an overachiever. They earned the No. 17 seed in the Class 6A district playoffs and drew nearby SOL National rival Bensalem in the first round.
As was the case for Martell and Pennsbury all year, they fought until the bitter end, with the key word of that sentence being bitter. Bensalem senior Kris Shields buried a three-pointer at the overtime buzzer to lift the Owls to a 58-55 win and a trip to the next round. It was a demoralizing conclusion to a largely successful season for the Falcons.
It’s one Martell or Coleman won’t forget anytime soon, and both gave similar variations of one key reason.
“For me, the most rewarding part was having our entire starting lineup get nominated to the all-league teams,” Coleman said. “In my nine years, I’ve never had that happen. I’ve had some good players come through here, but we would usually get two, three players max. It says a lot about the amount of work that all the guys put in, and it was great to see someone like Jake be recognized for that.”
While Pennsbury didn’t get any first team all-league selections (two on the second team, one on the third and two were honorable mentions), that fact didn’t matter. After all, those so-called experts wrote Pennsbury basketball off long ago, so the accolades were cathartic in a sense.
“When I tell my own kids or grandkids about this season, the respect we got at the end was the biggest highlight for me,” Martell said. “The fact that we all got all-league nominations after nobody thought anything of us, after they said Pennsbury basketball would fall off for a few years - we earned and deserved that respect. We were counted out from the start, so it’s an incredible honor to be able to hang on our shelves now that it’s over.”
Yes, Pennsbury’s memorable basketball season has come and gone, but that doesn’t mean Martell will stop moving anytime soon. He and the Falcons’ baseball program have multiple titles to defend, and the team’s appetite is as ravenous as ever after getting a taste of the ultimate glory a year ago.
When asked what he hoped to get out of the limited time he has left in his Pennsbury athletic career, Martell minced no words.
“For me, the number one thing would be to go back-to-back,” he said. “I have no doubt in my mind that we can do it. We want to dominate every game, but at the same time we want to enjoy the season too. But our main goal is to get right back to where we were last year.”
Martell is keeping an open mind about his college academics, saying he planned to go into Gwynedd Mercy as undecided on his major.
When asked what he liked to do on the rare occasions he wasn’t training for basketball and baseball seasons, Martell revealed a love for music. He has a friend who is a DJ, and on occasion Martell has helped him out in hauling and setting up equipment. When he allows himself to fantasize for a moment, he said a career as a music producer would be a dream.
“I don’t know what it is, it might be my brain,” he said. “I like hearing music. Different beats, different sounds, I’m just into it. It’s probably not realistic or serious, but it’s definitely a dream job and one of my biggest interests.”
Whether it’s music, medicine or something else entirely, Coleman has no doubt that Martell will excel in whatever it is that he decides to do with his life after he graduates from Pennsbury in a few short months.
“Based upon who is he, his level of commitment and toughness in everything he does, he will be successful,” Coleman said. “I hope his teammates who will be coming back next season saw what it took for him to get where he did this year. His toughness rubs off on guys. Skill level is great for some people, but if you’re not tough, none of it matters. The kid would literally run through a wall for his teammates. That’s just who he is.”