Utah basketball freshman Ian Martinez is continuing to adjust to college game

One of the program’s highest-ever rated recruits is off to slow start, but long-term signs are encouraging

(Photo courtesy of Evan Jones/Utah Athletics) | Utah freshman Ian Martinez goes on the offensive against Utah Valley at the Huntsman Center.

Based on nothing but recruiting rankings, freshman guard Ian Martinez should be playing a larger role for the University of Utah, which entertains Idaho on Friday night at the Huntsman Center.

A four-star recruit out of JSerra Catholic (Calif.) who was at one point rated as a top-60 recruit in the class of 2021, Martinez has struggled to find his footing as the infancy of his career unfolds. He has played all of 36 minutes and attempted eight field goals in that time.

Based on what the average observer knew of Martinez, maybe this should have been an easier transition, but that isn’t always the case.

“There’s just been an awful lot of new for Ian,” Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak said Tuesday evening following Utah’s 75-67 win over Utah Valley to move to 3-1 on the season. “Defensive concepts, getting our offense down, finding a little bit of comfort with the system.”

Martinez is an explosive athlete, the type of athlete that, as Krystkowiak has said multiple times over the past year, does not generally pass through his program. His game is raw, but the athleticism alone was going to make him a threat to play, even if it is in a limited role at first. Through four games, Martinez has looked like a freshman trying to figure it out, but Krystkowiak has enough trust that Martinez appears to have cracked the rotation.

On Tuesday against the Wolverines, Martinez played 12 minutes, all of it coming off the bench and in the middle of each half. In taking baby steps, he knocked down his first shot as a collegian, a 12-foot pull-up jumper along the right baseline to give the Utes a 61-51 lead with 7:49 to play.

“I would say, just from being around him, things are starting to happen for him,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s not happening super fast, it’s taken a little bit of time, but he has the presence of mind to just stay in it. He brings it every day, he wants to learn, he’s up in the coaches offices and it’s very much part of the process with a young player.”

As for any Martinez hype that had to do with recruiting rankings, in fairness, he is the fourth-highest rated recruit in program history. Furthermore, if you go by recruiting rankings to decide how good a team should be, of the 15-highest rated Utah recruits ever according to the 247sports composite, this Utes roster has five of them.

That group includes Martinez’s classmate, 6-foot-5 combo guard Pelle Larsson, who has gotten off to a mostly-optimistic start to his career. Through four games, Larsson is averaging 7.0 points per game on 47.1% shooting from the floor.


At the Huntsman Center

Tip-off » Friday, 7 p.m. MT

TV » Pac-12

Radio » ESPN700 AM

Records » Utah 3-1; Idaho 0-4

Series » Utah leads, 12-3

About Utah » The Utes are coming off a 75-67 win over Utah Valley on Tuesday in which they led by one with 3:21 to play, but ripped off the final seven points of the game to avoid the upset … Timmy Allen finished with a team-high 19 points to lead four players in double figures. Allen is averaging 13.3 points and 5.0 rebounds through four games … Utah is 12-3 all-time against Idaho, but the two sides have not met since 2009. In that one, Idaho registered its only win of the series, 94-87, over the Utes in the season-opener for both teams.

About Idaho » The Vandals have had a rough opening stretch, with four games canceled due to COVID-19, and an 0-4 record otherwise. They are coming off a 76-66 loss at Cal Bakersfield on Dec. 12. A trip to No. 1 Gonzaga two days later was a COVID casualty as the Bulldogs are currently on a pause … Junior guard DeAndre Robinson leads Idaho in scoring at 11.5 points per game on a gaudy 59.3% shooting from the floor. Senior forward Scott Blakney is the only other Vandal in double figures at 11 points per contest … Three of Idaho’s four losses have been by double digits. The outlier was a 61-58 loss to Washington State in Pullman on Dec. 9.