McKinley High School senior William Martin walked leisurely across the Georgetown University campus one recent afternoon and stopped to reflect on his troubled days growing up in Southeast Washington.
"Five years ago, if you told me I would be standing here, I would have said no way," said Martin, a 6-foot-7 all-America basketball player who will attend Georgetown in the fall. "The way I was going, I couldn't foresee this (attending college) happening to me. I was more interested in the street life.
"My mother (Alberta) worried about me and I gave her good reason. She was afraid I would get caught in the street life and get in trouble," said Martin, the youngest of seven children. "I was a good student in junior high school but I wasn't that interested. Even when I got to McKinley, school just didn't interest me that much. But I began to play a lot of basketball and I soon realized the only way I'd be able to keep playing was to hit the books."
Martin quickly gained the reputation as a playground sensation. An excellent jumper who was intimidating on defense, Martin soon forgot about acquiring easy money, a car and fancy clothes and started concentrating on improving his game.
"Basketball took up all of my time. I loved it. But I was getting older and that was all I was doing," Martin said. "My father left us when I was 8 and my mother worked a lot in the evenings. So I had to learn to be independent. I was on my own a lot but I got used to being alone. My mother saw to it I had the necessities and always checked up on me, making sure I did my homework and was all right.
"College wasn't stressed but my mother wanted us to be successful in whatever we did. She didn't know it then but I had made my mind up to be something. Those Fs turned to As and Bs and school suddenly became interesting."
By his senior year, Martin's grades had improved greatly but his play wasn't always up to par.
Led by Martin, McKinley won 13 of its last 15 games, both losses coming to Interhigh League-champion Dunbar. McKinley finished second in the league tournament and went on to defeat Carroll in the preliminary to the city championship game. Martin averaged 21 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots per game as the Trainers finished 19-7, ranked third in the area.
"Overall, I enjoyed my high school career. I discovered school was very important, after all, and I set my mind to improving my grade-point average to a 3.0," Martin said. "I wasn't sure what college I wanted to attend. I visited Oregon State, and it was beautiful. Maryland was nice. But like everyone else, I dreamed about UCLA and Notre Dame. I didn't know much about Georgetown until this year. And the more I learned about it, the more I liked it.
"My mother thought I might be better off going out of town to escape the environment but she was very impressed with John Thompson (Georgetown coach) and changed her mind. Still, she left the decision strictly up to me."
Martin has been a regular visitor to the Georgetown campus since signing. He is eager to begin what he referred to as a "new learning experience.
"I can't wait. I know college life is a big challenge, but I'm really looking forward to it," he said.
Martin said he plans to do whatever is necessary to graduate in four years. "I haven't gone to school with many white students before, but I can adjust to it," he said. "All of us are there for the same reason."
"Right now, that degree is very important to me," said Martin, who plans to major in either business or accounting. "I know I'm going into a totally different environment but I'm sure I can handle it. That's not goint to be a problem. I worked on Capitol Hill last summer as a clerk and that experience helped me a lot in dealing with adults.
"College is a new experience and experiences are part of life. Deep down, I guess I'll have that fear of not being able to handle the school work at first. But I'll get tutors and study extra hard if that's what it takes. I don't plan to fail. Not now."
Martin also said he didn't expect any adjustment problems on the court, either.
"I don't expect to go in and do the same things in college I did in high school," Martin said. "And, it wouldn't bother me being a reserve. I know the entire starting five is returning and I have to learn the college game. It's a lot different. As a freshman, I will be happy if I can go in and play a few minutes and contribute to the team. Just show some promise for the future."
The raw-boned, 200-pound Martin is projected as a strong forward but has the speed and outside shot to play small forward. He feels he can play both.
"I think my quickness is definitely an advantage," he said. "But I plan to work on all phases of my game -- dribbling, shooting and defense. Stamina and defense seem to be the most important things in the college game. I know it's rougher and you have to be in top condition."
Martin got a precollege briefing from Gene Smith, a former high school teammate and friend who will be a sophomore reserve guard for the Hoyas.
"Gene and I are close and we've talked about a lot of things. He told me things a freshman needs to know about college," Martin said. "The one thing he did say was that the work was harder and I had to apply myself. I could tell right away Gene sounded much older, more mature. He talked confidently and older and he sounded very happy."
"It's nice having a friend or someone who know very well around when you go somewhere new," he said. "And, I'll be new, a freshman. That's fine, because at times, you want to be left alone. In high school, people made me feel like I was in a fish bowl. I enjoyed the attention but, at times, it got to me.
"I like people and make friends pretty easily. I just like to get to know you first. Having Gene around will help make my adjustment period very comfortable."
Martin flashed a broad smile when he thought about his upcoming graduation from McKinley.
"I can look back now and think about all that time I wasted in school. I really can't understand why I did some of the things I did," he said. "It took me a long time to convince myself school was a good place to be. That's why I can't wait until my college days start."