The basketball coach and the athletic trainer sat in an office at Zanesville High School going through next season's roster.
In a central Ohio town where hoops are a big deal, they went kid by kid, talking about positives and negatives. When they got to their wiry sophomore guard, the trainer had an idea.
“We ought to make him a manager,” he said.
The trainer just wasn't sure the kid who always needed treatment could hack it.
Maybe it was the kid's grades or his family or his work ethic, but the coach thought otherwise.
Later that summer, the trainer watched the kid stand flat-footed under the basket, jump and dunk a basketball two-handed.
“He went from a boy who could barely walk to that,” said Doug Smith, the trainer, telling the story on himself and laughing now a decade-plus later.
Kevin Martin made believers out of both men.
They weren't the only ones in Zanesville, Ohio.
Long before Martin became the Thunder's first man off the bench and another one of Oklahoma City's good-guy players, he had a network of support in his hometown. The hardworking, blue-collar community about the size of Ardmore sits on the banks of the Muskingum and Licking rivers. It is known more for its pottery than its sports stars.
But in Martin, people in Zanesville saw a youngster who was fighting the odds just as hard as they were.
“You kind of pull for each other in that town,” he said.
Now, Martin is the one doing the pulling. He started giving back to his hometown the minute he had something to give. He's helped when no one was looking and in the most dire of circumstances, and he has no intention to stop.
Kevin Martin was born and raised in Zanesville. He and his brother, Jonathon, grew up in the same tiny three-bedroom house where their father was born.
The family, like most everyone in town, had modest means. Kevin Sr. worked in construction and did landscaping on the weekends. Marilyn worked as a welfare social worker.
“We struggled with a lot,” Kevin Sr. said. “We both had jobs, but it wasn't like we were making good money.”
They still found a way to get the boys involved in sports. Baseball. Football. Basketball.
It wasn't long before Kevin started gravitating toward basketball. Because his parents were working, he spent a lot of time down the street at his grandparents' house. They lived just across the street from a park. The basketball courts there became the place Kevin always wanted to go.
He had a dream — to be like Mike.
Kevin idolized Michael Jordan, plastering his bedroom walls with Jordan posters and pictures, asking for Jordan shirts and shorts and shoes.
“Man, look,” his dad would say, “we can't really afford to get you these Jordan shoes all the time.”
He'd tell Kevin to save his allowance and his lunch money.
Lessons like that stuck with Kevin.
“It definitely molded me into a young man who knows you have to sacrifice,” he said of his childhood.
Good thing. Basketball has been demanding of Martin.
Kevin Martin was a toothpick.
He weighed less than a hundred pounds as a high school freshman. But after he made that miraculous jump between his sophomore and junior years, he started to emerge as one of Ohio's best prepsters. He was fourth in the voting for Mr. Ohio Basketball as a senior, finishing behind the first sophomore winner in the award's history, LeBron James.
Still, scholarship offers were limited for the wiry kid who shot 3-pointers from the hip. Western Carolina, Ohio and Buffalo offered scholarships, but almost everyone else wanted him to attend prep school first.
His coaches and teachers scratched their heads, unable to understand how so few teams would take a chance on a kid with good test scores, great grades and obvious talent.
His parents and grandparents stayed positive, but they didn't get it either.
“Just hang in there, keep your head up, and don't let anyone tell you can't do what you know you can do,” his folks told him. “Keep giving it all you got.”
Kevin chose tiny Western Carolina, and three years later — after averaging more than 22 points and being one of the nation's top scorers every season — he declared himself eligible for the NBA Draft. The Sacramento Kings selected him in the first round.
He left for the West Coast, the NBA, the big time, but he didn't forget the place that helped him get there.
He didn't forget Zanesville.
Kevin Martin was only a few months into his rookie season when he decided to do an adopt-a-child program back in Zanesville during the holidays.
It was only the start.
Less than a decade later, the fingerprints of his generosity are all over Zanesville. He does summer basketball camps. Gives to the schools. Helps local scholarship funds. Donates shoes and jerseys to local fundraisers. Provides for local groups such as Christ's Table, Eastside Community Ministry and Tools for Schools.
He even buys a hog each summer at the county fair and donates it to a local youth center.
“Everybody in town thinks they're related to him,” said Jeff Moore, one of Martin's high school coaches. “Everybody in this town think they're Kevin Martin's cousin. I don't care if they're white, black, Chinese, whatever — they're related to Kevin.
“That's what he means to this community.”
The past two years around Christmas, Martin has done the Hometown Holiday Giveaway. He asks people to submit a short essay explaining what kind of impact they could have on Zanesville around the holidays if they had a thousand dollars.
His favorite entry: a dance troupe of little girls who wanted to brighten the town with their dance.
“It was cute,” Martin said.
He smiled, then turned serious.
“I think it's important to always help people in different situations,” he said. “It doesn't necessarily have to be a bad situation.
“I think we forget to really actually care about how somebody's feeling.”
Kevin was on his way to the gym one spring morning two years ago when he started getting texts from folks in Zanesville.
There'd been a bad bus crash.
He called his grandma to get the story.
Bus No. 26 had been on its way to a nearby school when it ran off the road and hit a light pole. The impact caused the bus to roll over, and when it did, it killed Kasey King-Thomas.
He was only 6.
“It was such a tragedy,” Martin said quietly.
Kasey was from a family of 10 kids. He was one of five foster kids who had been adopted by Randi and Joe Thomas.
Kevin knew he had to help them.
“I just didn't want them to have to worry about any expenses because they took on a lot taking in kids,” he said. “Just trying to let them focus on the other kids and their grieving ... and not worry about the rest.”
Kevin paid for all of the funeral expenses and then some. One of Kasey's grandmothers lived in Florida and didn't travel well. Kevin paid for her and a companion to get to Ohio.
Kasey's family wanted to let ESPN know about all that this NBA player had done for them.
Kevin said thanks but no thanks.
A week later, Kasey's mom wrote a letter of thanks to the community that appeared in the Zanesville paper. She said a special thank you to Kevin.
“Kevin, thank God both of us came from this little piece of the world,” she wrote. “Because of you and a little 6-year-old boy, you both have shown me that a little piece of heaven does exist down here in our community.”
Kevin still sends gift cards to the family around the holidays, and they always send him thank yous. Cards. Notes.
It's the kind of thing that happens often when he helps someone back home.
“I give to them, and they make me feel appreciated,” Kevin said. “You just want to keep on giving.”
Kevin Martin isn't just giving back to his hometown.
He is giving back to his home.
Zanesville is where he lives during the offseason. He doesn't go to the beach. He doesn't hang in a big city. He goes to the place that's always been home.
He'll call his dad during the season and tell him that he can't wait to be back there.
“My family, everybody's there,” he explained. “They never moved out to Columbus or Cincinnati or Cleveland. They just always stayed there, so I felt like I needed to stay there, too.”
Not only stay but also impact.
He knows what struggle looks like. He saw it as a kid when he was growing up, and when he looks around his blue-collar, one-zip-code hometown and sees it now, he can't help but want to do something.
He didn't divorce himself from his hometown like some athletes do.
He dug in and loved it even more.
“Just give the city hope,” Martin said. “I don't put too much pressure on myself, but I really do feel like I carry the city on my back.”