June 5, 2024 

Kate Martin matters to the Las Vegas Aces

Kate Martin didn't expect to be drafted back in April, but she's already contributing to the defending champs early in the season.

It is well known that the WNBA may be the hardest league in the world to get into. There are currently only 144 roster spots, and not every team will use all 12 of their allocated roster spots in a given year. This is why it’s rare to see second and third round draft picks even make a roster in their rookie seasons. However, Kate Martin is bucking that trend for the Aces. She’s not only making the roster, but she’s also contributing big minutes in the team’s start to the season.

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“I feel really grateful to be in the position that I’m in right now and just sitting in between two of the goats [A’ja Wilson and Becky Hammon] you know, it’s just, it’s really cool,” Martin said. “I wouldn’t want to be learning from any other vets in the league or any other coach in the league. That goes for every girl in the locker room, too. They make my job pretty easy, and they make me you know look good at times. So, it’s pretty cool to learn from them.”

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Making a roster is one thing. To consistently see the floor with the likes of the loaded Las Vegas roster as a rookie is quite a feat. Coming out of Iowa, Martin had a skillset that piqued head coach Becky Hammon’s interest. When Hammon watched Martin play at Iowa, she saw things that made her want to draft her. She felt Martin was the second-biggest reason for the Hawkeyes’ successes the last few years.

Martin did not see the floor in the first game of the season, but in her first ever WNBA appearance, she did not disappoint. She only scored three points, but she added five rebounds, three assists and one monstrous block on Li Yueru. Martin’s defense was solid and she made strategic plays on offense, garnering praise from both her teammates and her head coach.

“Her mind. Her mind jumps off the page,” Hammon said of the rookie. “She’s a basketball player, and if you don’t know what that means, then you should watch her. She is somebody who understands angles, being in the right place at the right time, making the right read, and she’s just getting their feet wet. She’s built up a lot of trust already in the locker room and with us coaches. At the end of the day, her try-hard factor is off the charts. I love that.

“When I go into any meeting when we’re looking at potential talent, the number one thing I want is competitiveness,” Hammon continued. “She’s earned every minute she is out there. She has earned it in practice. And in the locker room. She’s a high-character person and we value that around here.”

Since then, Martin has only see her opportunities increase. She has played at least 14 minutes in every subsequent game after her first appearance, and she’s scored in all but one of them. She is averaging five points, four rebounds and two assists per game through the first five games of her career. During Becky Hammon’s tenure, the Aces have only played two other games in which a rookie played more than 20 minutes. Martin has done that four times in her first five games.

In her best game of the season so far, Martin scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds against the Indiana Fever and her former college teammate Caitlin Clark. In fact, Martin outscored Clark. That is first time that has occurred in a game involving the two former Hawkeyes since January 9, 2021, when Clark had eight and Martin had nine against Northwestern. Additionally, while Martin was always the Robin to Clark’s Batman, she now has a new caped crusader — two-time MVP A’ja Wilson.

Kate Martin contests a shot from Cecilia Zandalasini as the Aces face the Minnesota Lynx. Photo Credit: John McClellan/The Next

“That’s Kate, that’s who she is, she’s high energy always in practice,” said Wilson. “It was just a matter of time that it translates over to the to the game, so we were all excited. It’s hard being a rookie, it is so hard, let alone being a rookie with the two-time champs. I can only imagine what she goes home to, or just kind of thinks and processes. So, I try to lift her in every single way that I can, try to be there for her. I feel like today I kind of looked at her, I was like, believe in yourself, go believe in your matchup, attack her, because it’s needed.”

For many, the opportunity to play with the back-to-back defending champions as a rookie would be daunting, but Martin takes it one moment at a time. She said when she goes into games, she focuses on what she can control, like her attitude and effort. She feels that if she controls her attitude and effort, only good things can, and will, happen.

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Martin is also focused on learning from veterans, especially Alysha Clark. Hammon felt Martin’s game was very similar to Clark’s, and she instructed her early in camp to shadow Clark. Hammon knew that with Martin’s high basketball IQ, she’d pick things up quickly. That’s been more than true — Martin’s even corrected a teammate in practice on where to stand on an out-of-bounds play.

Martin has been right behind Clark a lot early in the season, and the 12-year vet has seen the rookie grow tremendously in her short time with the team. “She’s been right there. Even before Becky said something, she was right there, asking me questions,” said Alysha Clark of Martin. “She came to me, like, ‘listen, I’m watching everything that you’re doing.’

“Just because our games are so similar … from the defensive side of things, we’re going to be solid,” Clark continued. “On the offensive side, knocking down shots, making great cuts and reads. She obviously comes in the league with a better shot than I did back in the day, so she’s already a step ahead in that way, but her IQ is extremely high. So just having her there and just being able to watch her blossom over these games from training camp … she’s grown every game.”

While Martin is taking every moment as they’ve come, she’s already gotten the opportunity to play in a lot of critical situations. She doesn’t have the pedigree or flair of some of the other rookies in this class, but she is contributing in her own way to one of the best teams in the league. Recently, someone asked Martin if it would be a “Houdini-like trick” if she won the rookie of the year award. She said yes. But while she isn’t anywhere near the running for that award, that never mattered to her. She is happy to continue to develop with the Aces, both learning from and contributing to her team.

“Honestly, I’ve just been where my feet are and enjoying every single moment,” said Martin. “All I wanted was an opportunity, and to get the chance to be on the best team in the league with the best vets in the league and the best coaches … I just feel super grateful. Honestly, I’ve just been having the time of my life … I just feel really grateful.”

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Written by Matthew Walter

Matthew Walter covers the Las Vegas Aces, the Pac-12 and the WCC for the Next. He is a former Director of Basketball Operations and Video Coordinator at three different Division I women's basketball programs.

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