The college basketball coaching carousel can be cruel on a teenaged basketball prospect, particularly one finishing up his senior year.
Glenbrook South’s Nick Martinelli committed to Elon last July, signed in November and was completely content, excited and ready to play for coach Mike Schrage. He would be headed to Elon for the start of his freshman year in a couple of months.
Then he received a call that rocked his world last week.
Schrage was resigning as head coach to be Jon Scheyer’s special assistant at Duke.
“I was super shocked when I got the call,” Martinelli said. “I had no clue at all.”
There was a wave of emotions that swept over Martinelli, the 6-7 forward who is among the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top 10 prospects in the state in the senior class.
Martinelli committed to Elon in early July, just before his stock soared. A couple of weeks after committing, he shined brightly and produced at a high level in last summer’s EYBL travel circuit and the famed Nike Peach Jam.
There were other schools lurking, set to pounce if Martinelli chose to re-open his recruitment. But he never wavered. He was set on Elon. Martinelli was labeled a “recruiting steal.”
“Obviously it hurt a little bit when I heard about it,” Martinelli said of Schrage’s decision to be part of a Blue Blood program. “I had stayed committed to the coaching staff, and I believed in how they always told me about the future of the program and all the things I was excited for there. It hurt a ton to hear that coach Schrage left, and to even hear that [Andrew] Dakich left.”
Dakich, who was Elon’s director of basketball operations, left as well recently to become an assistant coach for newly hired Ryan Pedon at Illinois State.
“Those two were both big impacts on my decision to go there,” Martinelli said of Schrage and Dakich. “I don’t blame coach Schrage. He’s a great coach and a great guy. Whatever is best for him. I am super happy for him. I would never have hard feelings towards him.”
But it left Martinelli without a school and wondering what was next for him.
“That night that I got the call, I was just thinking to myself, ‘What am I going to do?’” Martinelli said. “I was a little nervous because I was committed to Elon and had my mind set on Elon for eight or nine months. It felt a little weird. Gradually I got over it. I have to find a new school, and it could be Elon if they hire a coach I like. But it was definitely shocking.”
Martinelli finished his career with 1,331 points. And following a senior season in which he put up 22.8 points and 6.6 rebounds a game while leading the Titans to a 33-3 record, there will be no shortage of suitors for Martinelli.
There is an endless list of mid-major programs and a few high-majors poking around, including an offer from Northwestern on Monday.
Anyone who watched Martinelli over his career appreciated all he brought to his team. He impacted games in so many different ways, always produced and made winning plays. Martinelli is the quintessential “crafty player” with a competitive spirit and an unmatched work ethic.
Now he is taking a positive approach to suddenly being a coveted prospect again, albeit one with a shorter window to research and decide.
“I am very excited and grateful and feel like everything happens for a reason,” Martinelli said. “Maybe I will find a spot where I will flourish more than I would have at Elon. Or if Elon hires a coach I like once again, I could end up there for sure.”
Being the winner that Martinelli has been, he was intrigued by helping Elon become just that — a winner. The fact the program had never reached great heights intrigued him. Part of the reason he chose Elon in the first place, he said, was because it had never been to a NCAA Tournament before.
“I really wanted to do my best to make an impact on that program and reach that goal,” Martinelli said of reaching the NCAA Tournament at Elon. “What stood out in their presentation was they were an up-and-coming team that had never made the tournament.
“I am now trying to find the best fit for me. I just want to go play college basketball and win games. That’s what makes me happy: winning. That’s the main thing. I want to get to know the team and staff well, have a family there to rely on and win with.”
He said he will sit down with his family and narrow down a lengthy list of schools currently pursuing him.
“My mindset, as it’s always been, is when I feel the right one in my heart I will just pull the trigger,” he said. “That’s what happened with Elon. It felt like home and I decided to pull the trigger. So whenever I find that, whether it’s on a visit or learning about the school, and I have that feeling of ‘This is where I want to be,’ I will certainly be ready and pull the trigger on it.”