Like most every aspiring basketball player, Cierra Martin had a youth-league coach who implored her to play defense with at least the same level of interest and enthusiasm as offense.
Unlike many young players, however, Martin listened.
“Defense is really fun.” said Martin, now a Wiesbaden junior and the Stars and Stripes girls basketball Athlete of the Year.
“I realized how important it was, and I was good at it,” Martin added, calling defense her “forte.”
The extent of Martin’s defensive gifts was apparent Feb. 22 as she led the Warriors to a DODDS-Europe Division I championship. Their vanquished opponents, the previously-explosive Patch Panthers, didn’t score a second-half point until 96 seconds remained in the fourth quarter of a 40-17 rout.
“Our defense killed everything,” Martin said after that game.
Nobody was more responsible for that crime than Martin, who finished that game with five steals and four blocked shots. It was a crowning achievement for the defensive specialist, a validation of her enduring dedication to the less glamorous half of the basketball court.
“I don’t not worry about offense,” said Martin, who averaged a very respectable 9.4 points per game in the regular season and boosted her scoring output to 10.8 per game in the European tournament. “But I worry about defense more. I grew up with the saying ‘defense wins games.’”
The method through which Martin’s defense wins games is fascinating. Aside from focus and effort, Martin attributes her defensive aptitude to “anticipation,” “experience,” and careful attention to her opponent’s “body language.”
“I look at people’s eyes,” Martin said. “A lot of people telegraph passes.”
Martin’s boundless energy and attention to detail has made her a comforting presence for her teammates. Guard Rebecca Russell played alongside Martin before suffering a late-season injury that kept her out of the European tournament. She came away with a unique perspective on Martin’s defensive gifts.
On the court, Russell knew Martin would always be there to cover any gaps that emerged in the Warrior defense.
“She’s extremely valuable,” Russell said. “It’s nice to have a person who knows how to anticipate. If you ever get beat on defense, Cierra is always there to help.”
As she observed from the sideline, Russell’s appreciation only grew.
“Just watching all the different things she does…It was awesome,” Russell said. “When she’s on defense, she has this look in her eyes like, ‘I’m going to get the ball.’ And she does.”
Among DODDS-Europe’s most athletically gifted players – she finished fourth in the triple jump at last year’s European track championship meet – Martin has made efforts to avoid the trap of relying too heavily on athleticism at the expense of fundamentals. That’s particularly true on the glass, where Martin has made a mundane but vital addition to her rebounding skill set.
“I used to never block out,” Martin said.
With solid technique in addition to outstanding leaping ability and tenacity, Martin is now one of DODDS-Europe’s best rebounders. She averaged 10.8 rebounds over the course of the regular season and postseason.
“I am convinced she can get any rebound she wants,” Warrior head coach Jim Campbell said.
And that’s the crux of what makes Martin a special player – she wants them all. Every rebound, every steal, every assist, every victory.
“She never stops. She never gives up,” Russell said. “She’s not one to take ‘no’ for an answer.”