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A Force In Every Game

Jan. 9, 2002

By Jack Williams – When Georgia Tech senior basketball whiz Milli Martinez was a Michigan high schooler, the college coaches’ scouting report on her contained such glowing phrases as “great competitor, superb athlete, solid attitude.”

Martinez says she would have added one more line: “A young, little punk who thinks she knows everything about the game.”

“I have become a 100 percent improved player in my time at Georgia Tech,” Martinez said this week. “Here, I have polished my athletic skills, but even more important, I’ve learned the mental part of the game.

“In high school, you don’t have to think. You just run and shoot and play. They tell you in college to just relax, play the game and have fun. But there’s more to it than that. In college, you have to out-think your opponents.”

Milli has been running, shooting – and thinking – better than most players in the red-hot Atlantic Coast Conference in recent games. Just ask those who line up against her.

The 5-8 guard from Imlay City, Mich., has scored in double figures in four straight games, including a career-best 25-point performance in the Jackets’ 65-56 victory over Wake Forest at Winston-Salem last week. For the season, she averages 11.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists. She is a force in every game, here, there and everywhere on the court.

Martinez, one of the team captains, will lead the Tech charge when the Jackets play two important Atlantic Coast Conference home games in the next five days. Coach Agnus Berenato’s Tech team (7-6, 1-3) takes on Virginia (8-6, 1-2) Thursday night and Maryland (9-6, 2-2) next Monday night. Both games are set for Alexander Memorial Coliseum at 7 p.m. and will be televised by Fox Sports Net South.

“Those home games are ours to win,” Martinez says. “But we can’t be passive. The first five minutes of a game are so important in Georgia Tech basketball, and we must get off to a good start. We feed off that. We are not as successful when we have to dig ourselves out of a hole.”

Martinez calls ACC basketball “Exciting, outstanding, so much fun.”

“The last place team can beat the first place team,” she says. “That’s how unpredictable it is. Anything is possible in ACC basketball.”

Milli thinks one thing, for sure, is quite possible. “Even though we are off to a slow start, I think Georgia Tech still can win the championship,” she says. “It’s our goal to do exactly that and also to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Neither of those goals has changed.”

Martinez is a goodwill ambassador for women’s basketball in general. “I’m so happy that people now are paying attention to the women’s game,” she said. “It’s such an exciting sport. It’s a very fundamental game while the men’s game is not always that way. In men’s basketball, it’s a dunk here and a dunk there. The women are running plays to get open shots and playing the game in such a fundamental fashion.”

Martinez also qualifies as a spokesperson for Georgia Tech and her basketball teammates.

“The Georgia Tech experience has been a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” she said. “I have matured so much here. The wonderful individuals I have met have brought me so close to the academic scene. At Georgia Tech, academics must come even before your sport.”

“Out of high school, I was recruited by a good number of schools, all the schools in Michigan, many in Ohio and other parts of the Midwest,” she said. “My mother (Deborah) wanted me to attend Ohio University. She was very impressed with that school when we visited there. A lot of prayer went into it. Georgia Tech is where the Lord wanted me to be.

“My teammates are so special to me. We are like sisters. We play like sisters, we fight like sisters, we love each other like sisters. We will be friends for life.”

Milli is proud that she was awarded the coveted Mandy Miller Scholarship for 2001-2002. This scholarship is given in memory of a former Georgia Tech basketball player who was killed in an automobile accident.

Milli is an excellent student, majoring in management. But her long-range goal involves managing things of a different kind. “My long-range goal is very simple,” she says. “I want to get married and have children. First, I want to continue playing basketball when I leave Georgia Tech.”

Marriage and children are natural goals for Milli in view of the fact that she is an extremely family-oriented person.

Her father, Juan, a native Puerto Rican who came to the United States in the mid-1970s, is a Pentecostal minister and has his own church, Potter’s House. Her mother works alongside her father at the church. Milli’s father also has a landscaping business on the side.

Milli (her real first name is Milagro) has two sisters, Kelly and Ana. Both dabble in sports, but they do not possess the athletic skills of the Tech star.

“Athletic ability always has come naturally to me,” Martinez says. “I have had to learn how to play the various games, but the ability always was there. The Lord just blessed me.”

Martinez was introduced to the game of basketball when she was nine years old by a family friend, Yriel Cintron. She went on to enjoy incredible success at Imlay City High near Flint, Mich. She was a two-time all-state selection who helped Imlay City to a 79-12 record during her years on the squad.

She finished her high schoool career with 2,135 points, becoming only the second Flint-area player to top the 2,000 mark.

Martinez also starred in high school softball as a shortstop and says she misses that sport very much.

“I still have my glove in my room,” she says. “I could almost kick myself for not giving softball at try at Georgia Tech. It’s hard to play the two sports on the college level. It’s like jumping from one big ocean to another ocean.”

She has not, however, ruled out the possibility of playing softball at Tech this spring when the basketball season is over. “I will play it by ear and see what happens,” she said. “I do not want to make promises I cannot keep. But there is a chance it could happen.”

Milli admits it is tough enough just keeping up with academics and basketball at the same time. Still, she says she finds time for a couple of her favorite past-times – scary movies (“I scream, but I love ’em”) and shopping (“when I have the money.”).

What Milli Martinez enjoys most, however, is competing in basketball – running and shooting and thinking. “The Little Punk from Michigan” sure has been doing all that in a big-time way.

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