Returning men’s basketball seniors reflect on time at Emerson

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Graduate guard Nate Martin will be rejoining the Lions along with fellow grad and center Jarred Houston (Beacon Archives)

By Jordan Pagkalinawan, Staff Writer

Graduates Jarred Houston and Nate Martin will return for their fifth years at Emerson, hoping to continue momentum from their appearance in the NCAA DIII playoffs last season.

Standing at 6-foot-10, Houston dominated from the center position in the 2021-22 season, averaging 18.5 points, nearly 15 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game. Named NEWMAC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year for the season, he amassed 21 double-doubles in 26 games. 

Dynamic as a guard, Martin scored 11.5 points per game last season, but missed out on important playoff games due to an arm injury.

Undoubtedly strong enough individually, the duo’s ability to play side-by-side ultimately influenced their decisions to return for the 2022-23 season.

“I love playing with Jarred,” Martin said. “Every time he touches the ball, the entire defense has to shift towards him. Having made the [third NCAA DIII] All-American team last year, he’s going to demand even more attention. He’s a great player, great defensive anchor, and he’s a huge competitor.”

The long stretches of time spent together in practice also translates to their day-to-day life, with one last ride into battle together motivating Houston to stay.

“It’s a big sigh of relief knowing I have someone as good as Nate to turn to every night,” he said. “I’m just really happy I get to have another year of basketball with one of my best friends.”

Houston, who crossed the 1,000 career points threshold last season, praised the basketball staff and team atmosphere. 

 “Part of the reason I wanted to come back was because of how much I love Emerson,” Houston said. “I’ve really enjoyed my time with my teammates. The coaching staff does an excellent job getting us ready, and I’ve been really satisfied with the amount of work we’ve been able to do in shifting the way people around New England view Emerson men’s basketball.”

The standout center said his game has changed in how he listens to his coaches. 

Martin mentioned how his role on the team has matured following his season-ending injury.

“I broke my hand the game before senior day, and we ended up getting to the conference championship and qualified for the tournament,” he said. “It was tough not being able to play. I had never really experienced anything like that before.”

Since day one in the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Gym, Martin and Houston have played a major role in shifting the program’s reputation and expectations, helping the team achieve two NCAA tournament bids and a NEWMAC Championship. 

Houston believes that he, Martin, and other incoming players were tasked with changing the team culture, and their goals evolved from reaching the playoffs to competing for a national title.

One mantra Martin lives by is controlling what he can—both in life and basketball.

“Whenever it gets to a point where it’s tough, I think just focusing on taking advantage of the day and not letting it go by is the most helpful thing,” he said. “There’s so many highs and lows, so it keeps me grounded.”

Houston says he adopted the team’s mindset.

“Just having a ‘dawg’ mentality every time you step on the court, especially when you go into hostile gyms,” he said. “You just want to do everything you can to make sure you come out of there with a W.”

Reflecting on their seasons together, Martin fondly recalled winning the NEWMAC Championship in 2019 alongside Houston.

“I know one thing I missed from high school is the big rivalry games with tons of students, and that’s what we really got in conference playoffs and the NCAA tournament [… ]it was just a really fun environment,” Martin said.

The Lions went 18-8 in the graduates’ last season, but it was the emotional investment of the other four seniors that made it special.

“It was my last year with a lot of the guys I came in with, so we just had a great time, really embraced it,” Houston said. “Seeing there was a finish line that was waiting for us just made me appreciate it more.”

“We had a lot of swagger about ourselves as a team,” Martin added. “I had never been a part of a team like that where everyone was so close. That whole year was pretty special.”

Both believe there is a chance to repeat last year’s success this season. Houston said that getting the newcomers involved and seeing them grow has been an exciting process.

Houston and Martin also noted the team’s depth, abilities, and experience as aspects to look forward to.

“I’m just excited to see how it all unfolds,” Houston said  “I love our roster. I love us against anyone.”

Gazing upon the golden gates of collegiate basketball heaven, the duo will hold on to many lessons beyond Emerson.

Houston says playing collegiate basketball taught him about accountability, taking care of his body, balancing academics and athletics, and not taking anything for granted.

“What I realized now is that it does end at some point,” he said. “I will play my last game at Emerson at some point, so [I’m] embracing everything that I do in life and trying to see the positives out of it at all times.”