STILLWATER — On a crucial night for Oklahoma State at West Virginia, Brittney Martin morphed from a freshman complement piece into a clutch offensive weapon for the Cowgirls.
She scored a career-high 21 points, including a jumper and 3-pointer in the game's final three minutes to help seal a 64-54 OSU basketball victory.
“She was willing to kind of put us on her back,” coach Jim Littell said, “and say, ‘Hey I'm going to go score this. I'm going to go win the game.'”
It was the latest development for the most decorated recruit to ever sign with OSU, the most recent step in a journey that has taken Martin from a Utah town located just east of the Great Salt Lake to Stillwater.
And as the Big 12 season heads into the stretch run, Martin is making a serious case to become the second consecutive Big 12 Freshman of the Year to come from OSU.
According to a marked wood panel in her grandfather's garage, Martin already stood 5-foot-1 in the first grade.
“That's embarrassing,” Martin said with a laugh. “I was humongous.”
Humungous, but with an athletic build. The first sport Martin tried was soccer, but she would always — inaccurately — kick the ball with the front of her foot. She never warmed up to softball, either.
But she flourished when she began playing organized basketball at age 10. As a sixth grader, she was already playing with high school freshmen. She could handle the ball well for her size, and she had already mastered the smooth shooting stroke she still uses today.
“It just came pretty easy for her,” said Darrell, Brittney's father.
That continued in high school in Syracuse, a town with a population of approximately 25,000 located about 30 miles north of Salt Lake City. Brittney led her team to an 89-5 record and two Class 5A state championships during her career and developed into arguably the best girls basketball player to ever come out of the state.
With that came national recruiting attention, as she was rated the No. 19 overall prospect and No. 3 wing by ESPN HoopGurlz. An offer from the hometown school, the University of Utah, came before her junior season.
Brittney and her family were so excited that she committed almost immediately. She quickly realized, though, that she had rushed the decision and reopened her recruitment.
She considered other Pac-12 schools such as UCLA, Arizona State and Washington. OSU, meanwhile, was one of the last schools to start pursuing her.
But, like so many other current and former Cowgirls, Brittney immediately bonded with late assistant coach Miranda Serna. And while on her visit to Stillwater, she committed.
“We get to LA, and she's like, ‘This is way too fast for me,'” Darrell said. “When we got to Stillwater, we were in love with that place the first three hours we were there.”
One week after signing her letter of intent in November 2011, a plane crash killed Serna and head coach Kurt Budke.
“She was going to back out after that accident,” Darrell said. “I told her, ‘What would Serna want you to do? She recruited the hell out of you, and I think you have an obligation to go there.' That was the best thing she did was go.”
Added Brittney: “I kind of thought they still wanted me to go here. I'd still be going (to OSU) if they were here … I'm glad I came here. I'm glad I made this decision.”
Brittney became an immediate starter for the Cowgirls and has always brought a well-rounded skill set, averaging 9.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.9 steals per game.
With a 6-foot frame, she's got good size for a shooting guard and the strength to drive inside. She also has the finesse to create off the dribble and hang in the air before releasing a jumper. And she's got quick hands and a natural ability to anticipate and grab a steal on the perimeter.
So even with the share of freshman mistakes sprinkled throughout the season, the OSU coaching staff hasn't been afraid to challenge Brittney.
After not needing to play much defense in high school, Brittney has focused on that area of her game and enters Saturday ranked third in the Big 12 in steals. She rarely brought the ball up the floor before arriving at OSU, but is now trusted to handle that role if point guard Tiffany Bias is double-teamed. And with improved confidence on offense, the coaches are starting to dial up more plays designed specifically to get her the ball.
“She's got a little bit of everything thrown at her,” Littell said, “and she's getting to where she can handle that.”
Littell won't go as far as to declare that Brittney should be the Big 12 Freshman of the Year. And Brittney's not too concerned with any awards, either, as the Cowgirls make a push for the NCAA Tournament.
“I've got a lot of work to do,” she said. “I'll never be satisfied.”
No. 25 Oklahoma State vs. Kansas State
*When: 4 p.m. Saturday
*Where: Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater
*Radio: KGFY-FM 105.5
Three things to know
*This is OSU's Play4Kay game, an initiative to raise breast cancer awareness named in honor of late N.C. State coach Kay Yow. The Cowgirls will wear pink shoes Saturday in support.
*K-State has won four in a row against OSU, including a 76-70 overtime victory in Manhattan on Jan. 23.
*K-State's Brittany Chambers ranks second in the Big 12 in scoring with 19.6 points per game.