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Zane Martin and Towson make for a reunion story that could decide the CAA

The playmaking guard is back in black and gold, and gives Pat Skerry’s program an immediate boost.

NCAA Basketball: Towson at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Colonial Athletic Association released its preseason awards on Wednesday and Towson’s Zane Martin is back on an all-CAA team. Flash back to 2018 and that would’ve seemed impossible in the most literal sense of the word.

Martin and the Tigers are the great reunion story of the 2020-21 season, and perhaps one of the more fascinating tidbits in the country. The redshirt senior transferred back to Towson in August, a program he’d spent his first two collegiate years at before parlaying an explosive sophomore campaign (19.8 PPG, 38.0 3F%) into a move to New Mexico.

At the time, Martin’s exit removed a young building block from Pat Skerry’s program. That’s what stood out to the Towson coach at the time, as he recently told the Baltimore Sun.

“I was hurt by him leaving more than anyone because it affected our team,” Skerry said. “Every guy that you get the fortunate opportunity to coach, you like to think you have a great relationship with him, and I’ve always had a good relationship with Zane. I was disappointed that he left, but I certainly didn’t hold any grudges.”

Martin sat out the 2018-19 season per transfer rules, then slotted in as a part-time starter and rotational stalwart for the Lobos last year. His offense translated to the Mountain West (10.1 PPG, 3.1 APG) and he was a true team player, logging more minutes at the point than his final, scoring-heavy moments at Towson may have suggested was his trajectory.

The Lobos figured to rely heavily on Martin in 2020-21, but he announced in August that he was leaving the program due to uncertainty over whether the Mountain West or state of New Mexico would allow basketball this coming season. That put the broad-shouldered playmaker back on the market, and set up an exceedingly rare homecoming in college basketball’s transfer-heavy era.

Martin talked about why he wanted to return to where it started in a release.

“I want to finish where I started,” said Martin. “I missed Towson, Coach Skerry and his coaching staff. I feel like I’m coming home, this will be amazing. I can’t wait to meet my teammates, go out with a bang and achieve great things; the future is bright and I’m excited.”

Skerry is happy to have his former star back in the fold.

“It’s good to have him back, he’s a good player,” Skerry said during the CAA’s media day press conference on Wednesday. “He kind of plays like James Harden. The one thing he’s done a really good job of is — playing at a high level program under Paul Weir at New Mexico — he’s become a really good passer.”

NCAA Basketball: New Mexico at Air Force
Martin spent plenty of time handling the ball in his lone season on the court at New Mexico.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The numbers certainly bear that out, as Martin posted a career-best assist rate (25.3%) that was among the best in the Mountain West. That step out of the primary scoring role could serve him well as he joins a roster with no familiar faces left from his previous stint. That includes a pair of young guards brimming with potential in sophomores Jason Gibson (8.4 PPG, 36.6 3P%) and Nicholas Timberlake (6.1 PPG), who could benefit from the defensive attention that’ll center around Martin.

The trio could serve as the backbone of an offense that is coming off its second-best season in terms of efficiency in Skerry’s nine years, but loses its top three scorers. Timberlake may be especially poised for a breakout. Skerry said the CAA’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year has been the Tigers most consistent performer in a truncated offseason, and will not be coming off the bench in the upcoming campaign.

The Tigers have entrenched themselves in respectability under Skerry, with the 1-31 campaign in his debut season a distant memory. They’ve won 18 or more games six times, with three 20-plus-win seasons in that mix. They’ll be hoping for more of the same with Martin back, even though they lose some key players.

“I like the group, a lot of new pieces, but not necessarily young pieces,” Skerry said.

That infusion of experience also includes CSU Bakersfield graduate transfer guard Cam Allen, USC transfer center Victor Uyaelunmo and Long Beach State transfer forward Demetrius Mims. The whole package has been hard for outlets to peg prior to a uniquely unpredictable season, which Skerry pointed out at CAA media day.

“One of my assistants showed me the other day that Blue Ribbon picked us first and Lindy’s picked us 10th,” he said. “I think the thing is wide open.”

For its part, the CAA poll placed Towson at fourth with a handful of first place votes. However it shakes out, it’ll be likely be Martin back at the controls for the Tigers, this time as the veteran in the room. It wasn’t that way the last time he suited up in a Tigers’ uniform.

They jumped out to a 10-1 start during his last season at Towson in 2017-18. At the time, Skerry talked about how veterans on the team had helped pave the way for Martin’s breakout performances. That included then-senior Deshaun Mormon coming off the bench and then-senior Eddie Keith flipping from the backcourt to the frontcourt.

“It wasn’t like it was a surprise,” Skerry said of Martin’s breakthrough in a 2017 interview. “But I think where our older guys have done a good job is sacrificing.”

The Martin-Towson reunion now sees the playmaking guard as the veteran in Skerry’s lineup, where he will hope to be the one paving the way for another successful year.