TGW: One For “Mom”
Yellow Jackets looking to send Martine Fortune out with a win on Senior Day
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
With four years around the Georgia Tech women’s basketball program, Martine Fortune has pretty much seen everything and can offer a sound, honest explanation for and/or around any situation.
You could call her “experienced.” Her teammates have chosen to call her something else.
“They call me, ‘Mom,’ sometimes, because I’m the oldest, obviously, as the only senior,” she said. “I’m the one who kind of tries to make sure they know what they’re supposed to do, especially early on, and just try to make sure that they’re doing the best they can.”
That assuredness is why it’s unusual that the senior from Philadelphia, Pa., admitted she’s heading into Sunday afternoon’s Senior Day game against No. 21/22 Florida State with trepidation.
She should be calm, having already been through three Senior Days (the Jackets are 3-0), and she’s hardly intimidated by the thought of starting, even though it’s been a while — her last start was as a freshman against High Point, on Nov. 27, 2015.
Starting and playing she can handle.
“I think it will be really fun,” said Fortune, whose mom and dad (she has no siblings) will proudly be in attendance. “Every time I step onto the court I just think of helping my teammates the best way I can so that’s really what I’m focused on.”
What actually has her concerned is how to handle getting to the court after being introduced in pregame as part of the starting lineup.
“I AM worried about that — you get up and you do the little handshake and then you run on the court,” she said, with a laugh. “I’m worried about the handshake. I’ve got to practice.”
It’s ironic that the 6-3 forward is uncomfortable heading into her final collegiate home game, after a college career based on making others comfortable.
“What I’ve noticed this past year is that, the way I am normally, my personality, I’m friendly. I like to connect to people. I like to make people feel comfortable,” she said. “That’s been a really huge part of getting people acclimated to Georgia Tech and just finding their way with the team. I really noticed it with the freshmen this year.”
What Fortune finally noticed this year has actually been noticeable to others going back much further.
Redshirt sophomore forward Anne Francoise Diouf noticed it as far back as 2016 when the soft-spoken native of Dakar, Senegal, then a senior at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., was making her visit to Georgia Tech.
“I was a little bit shy — I had never been to Atlanta or Georgia Tech — and I was just standing there, not talking or anything,” Diouf recalled. “She came right up to me and gave me a hug and was like, ‘Hey, girl. Are you excited to be here? Oh, my gosh, we have so much planned! We have so many things to do! You will love it! I can’t wait for you to get here!’ That gave me so much life.
“Since we are like the same height, she was like, ‘Finally, I have somebody as tall as me, so we can walk around and people will be like, ‘Oh, they’re twins,’” she added, with a laugh. “That really gave me so much life and joy. To me, she’s the sweetest person ever. She made me feel SO comfortable and that was one of the things that I really liked because as a foreign player, you only go where you feel comfortable. She made me SO comfortable. That was the first thing that I really loved about her.”
Fortune’s behavior that day wasn’t just an act to impress a recruit.
“She is like that all the time,” said Diouf. “The three years that I’ve spent here, I’ve only seen her upset twice. Twice in three years! She’s always happy, outgoing, genuine. As far as off the court, she helps you with studies, classes, she is a great roommate and she can cook. She will make sure you are happy all the time. She will gather the team together. We have movie nights, team-bonding stuff, she will always bring the team together.”
Fortune’s commitment to making people comfortable only gets stronger once they arrive on campus. You’re no longer just a teammate. You’re family. That requires developing chemistry off the court.
“It’s important because if we DON’T spend time with each other off the court, then we won’t be able to build that level of comfort and that level of trust (on it). So spending time off the court really cements our friendship,” she said. “It makes it not just about basketball. It makes it about EACH OTHER. That’s when we learn that we’re playing for each other, that we’ve got each other’s backs. When we do things like ‘Escape Rooms,’ or we just sit and talk, watch a movie, that’s when we really become closer.”
Fortune’s unselfishness has come while coming to grips with the fact that she would not see as much playing time she would have liked. Instead, she simply found a different way to contribute and make the team better. Basically putting the team first.
“It’s because I love these girls. I’ve loved all my classmates, all of my teammates,” she said. “That’s why I chose Georgia Tech. You have some teams where there are rivalries with your position and stuff like that, but everybody’s always helped each other here. Everybody’s always been friends here, been family.”
Fortune has always been willing to expand her family by helping in the community. This past summer she volunteered to travel to Puerto Rico with junior guard Chanin Scott as part of Georgia Tech’s Jackets Without Borders initiative.
“I’m proud of the charity work that we’ve done as a team and separately,” she said. “Chanin and I went on the Jackets Without Borders trip to Puerto Rico. That was an amazing experience. It was the summer after the hurricane. Just learning to give like that, I’m really proud of that and I want to carry that on throughout my life.”
She has benefitted in many ways at Georgia Tech, that will last a lifetime, both as a player and person.
“As a player I feel like I have gotten stronger, even though I didn’t play. I have developed my skills. So I think I have become a more-skilled player,” she said. “As a person, I feel like I have become more confident. I have realized that being a leader isn’t always about being the go-to player and all of that. It’s about being a good teammate. You can’t be a good leader without being a good teammate.
“I remember from freshman year, our seniors just being SO helpful. They always had our backs,” she added. “I remember Aaliyah (Whiteside) and ‘Dreek (Roddreka Rogers), would just go out of their way to make sure I understood what I was supposed to do and that I could still approach them if I needed help.”
She was as approachable to this year’s freshman class and it’s paid off as guard Elizabeth Balogun and forward Elizabeth Dixon have started all year and combined to win seven ACC Freshman of the Week awards while point guard Lotta-Maj Lahtinen, forward D’asia Gregg and guard Jasmine Carson have contributed off the bench.
“I’m so proud of them!” said Fortune, breaking into a big smile. “At the end of the day it’s all their hard work. I can’t take too much credit. It was mostly them.”
Diouf believes that Fortune is understating her value as another coach on the court.
“She knows ALL the plays. She knows every single thing that coach wants you to do and she will make sure you’re doing it,” she said. “She knows how to touch people and lift them up. If there is anyone you want to talk to on the team, Martine is the right person. She is just the one person that we wish would stay one more year.”
That’s not going to happen, as Fortune will graduate in May, with a bachelor’s in literature, media and communication. She hopes to work in journalism or in video production either in her hometown of Philadelphia, or major media markets New York or Washington D.C.
Her teammates are determined to give Martine a nice parting gift on Sunday and continue the recent trend of Senior Day victories.
“It’s got to be about her because her whole four years she made it about the team,” Diouf said. “It’s time for us to give back to her. She’s given everything for the team. She was always so unselfish. We’ve made a goal that this game is about Martine and we have to win this game for her, her last home game at Georgia Tech.”
Fortune’s admitted that she’s finally beginning to recognize just how much she’s meant to the program.
“When you don’t get as many minutes, like me, you don’t realize the impact that you have,” she said. “(Sunday) everything is going to be for me. It’s crazy because when there’s a Senior Day game you’re playing for the seniors. They’re going to be playing for me now. I really realize the impact that I’ve had with these girls, the friendships that I’ve made and how much I love the team. It’s just a ‘Wow!’ moment for me, how much I’m going to MISS this program.”
Just don’t miss that handshake.