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Wizards' Cartier Martin is confident but still fighting to survive

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 10, 2011; 11:30 PM

Cartier Martin had some uneasy moments at the start of this calendar year, as he nervously awaited having his contract with the Washington Wizards guaranteed for the remainder of the season. Martin had some reason for concern since he rarely played, and the Wizards had plenty of options at his position.

Mistakes or missed shots were multiplied in his mind, and for a player who went undrafted and had to test Europe and the NBA Development League before getting his shot in NBA, Martin never felt comfortable until the deadline passed on Jan. 10 and he realized he survived.

"You feel a lot more relaxed, you're a little bit more calm. You're not so antsy," Martin said. "But it was stressful, man. Worrying about your next step and what's going to happen. You're in that situation and you've got to keep moving forward and keep playing and not worry about what's going to happen and continue to do your job."

Martin, 26, could take more comfort after his wife, Shallanie, and infant son, Cartier II, were finally able to move from their home in Texas to join him in Washington. Having his family around has provided him with some stability, but Martin understands there is more work to be done.

"It's one of those things, I'm still fighting," he said. "I'm still fighting to remain here, but I'm confident in my game."

He got some reinforcement for that belief Wednesday when the Wizards defeated Milwaukee, 100-85, at Verizon Center and Martin buried a career-high five three-pointers. Martin made four threes in the fourth quarter, including back-to-back jumpers from beyond the arc after the Bucks cut a 22-point deficit to 12. His teammates were looking for him, and the only time he upset John Wall was when he hesitated.

"He gave us a great spark," Wall said. "One time, he hit two in a row and he had one and he pump-faked and drove and I told him, 'Your job for us is to make shots. So when you're open, don't hesitate, knock it down.' The next two passes, I found him."

Martin finished with 15 points in nearly 23 minutes; his best game since the season opener in Orlando, where he had season-highs of 17 points and 24 minutes played. Martin had a few highlights in his 36 games in between, including forcing overtime with a three-pointer in a win over Philadelphia on Nov. 2.

"He's kept ready. He works very hard," Coach Flip Saunders said. "When you play like that, you earn opportunities. So I'm sure he's a guy, he stays in his role. He's a very good catch-and-shooter - that's the best thing that he does. What I like about what he did [against Milwaukee]. He defended, rebounded well and played a good overall game."

The Wizards (14-37) may have to rely more on Martin with Al Thornton nursing a dislocated right middle finger, Josh Howard attempting to return from his left knee injury on Saturday against San Antonio, and Rashard Lewis's right knee beginning to wear down from the grueling schedule.

No matter what opportunity he receives, Martin maintains the same approach after stints in Turkey, Italy and the D-League. "Just thinking back from being in the D-League for a while," said Martin, who was undrafted out of Kansas State in 2007. "Just knowing, you don't want to go back to that. Just staying mentally prepared and never let your guard down, because any given night, you may have to give somebody a break. You have to be a professional."

Martin has the words "Focus" and "Faith" tattooed on his biceps, a personal motto that serves as reminder of what allowed him to overcome challenging situations in his career. Although he wasn't completely fond of his experience overseas, Martin said he was able to benefit from a style of play that forced him to be more of a catch-and-shoot player. The downside, though, was his ball-handling skills diminished and made him more one-dimensional.

Martin is the Wizards' best three-point shooter, connecting on 45.6 percent (26 for 57) of his attempts, which is actually better than his percentage inside the arc (41.5 percent; 22 for 53).

"Going through a lot of adversity, the main thing is continuing to believe in God, and having faith in Him, knowing that I can play at this level, being confident," he said. "Being undrafted was tough, but I put in the work."

Martin said he found more inspiration to work harder when his son was born Sept. 5. "Seeing my little man being born was one of the biggest moments in my life," Martin said. "I definitely think it changed my whole mind-set, knowing that I have to someone look up to me and try to follow in my footsteps. You feel a little pressure because you know you have new responsibilities. You have someone that's going to rely on you for almost everything up until a certain age. But it's exciting and it definitely changes you for the better."

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