It was a landmark night for Tina Martin and it was the kind of landmark you don’t see very often in collegiate athletics these days – a record that’s due to loyalty as much as ability.
On Sunday, Martin won her 300th game as coach of the University of Delaware women’s basketball team. That’s a lot of victories and also a lot of history – Martin started at Delaware in 1996 and that’s a long time in coaching years.
It used to be that way all the time at Delaware. Coaches came here as young men and women and stayed here and many of them eventually died here and now several of them have buildings and stadiums named after them. The names are as familiar to UD fans as members of their own family: Dave Nelson, Tubby Raymond, Bob Hannah, Mary Ann Hitchens, Barb Viera, Roy Rylander, Irv Wisniewski, Scotty Duncan…
That was, in many ways, a kinder and gentler era of college athletics, before they became big business for the school and the coach. Now a coach with ambition looks at a place like Delaware as a steppingstone, not a final destination, on his or her way to fame and fortune.
Martin has been an exception, although we’re sure she’d jump at the chance to coach at a big-time ACC or Big East school. But she is happy here and that’s mainly because she’s been successful here.
Martin had losing records in her first two years and Delaware, but she’s had only one since then. Her teams have gone to two NCAA Tournaments and six WNIT Tournaments and this is the ninth time it’s won 20 or more games, which is like being a 20-game winner in baseball – it’s the difference between pretty good and really good.
Of course, the mark of a really, really good team is to be nationally ranked and Delaware (22-1 overall, 13-0 in the Colonial Athletic Association) is ranked No. 10 in the country, a dizzying accomplishment for a team that’s never been ranked before.
And now Martin has a personal milestone to go along with her team’s success. Sunday’s 94-56 victory over Georgia State gave her a career record of 300-176 and no basketball coach in Delaware history – men’s or women’s – has ever won more games.
As expected, Martin downplayed the significance of her 300th victory.
“It’s been a lot of work by a lot of people,’’ she said. “A team is not just one person and a program is not just one coach. It means so much to get that number, but like anything else in sports, you move on. You can smile about it, but records and numbers fall.’’
A lot of people think this current team is mostly one person, junior Elena Delle Donne, the leading scorer in the country. There’s no question she is the main reason the Hens are ranked No. 12 and Martin was extremely fortunate to have Delle Donne drop in her lap after the former Ursuline star got homesick and left Connecticut, the most prestigious women’s team in the country, to enroll at Delaware. But this isn’t the first time Martin has had a good team. Even without Delle Donne, the Hens would be one of the best teams in the CAA. And even though Martin has never had a chip as blue as Delle Donne, she’s had lots of terrific players during her time in Newark, including Cindy Johnson, Tiara Malcolm, Tracey Howell and Tyresa Smith.
The constant throughout the years has been Martin, along with top assistant Jeanine Radice, who has been with Martin since the beginning. They took over a losing program and turned it into a consistent winner. And now, with Delle Donne leading the way, they’ve taken the Blue Hens to unprecedented heights.
Martin recently signed a contract extension through the 2013-14 season and you have to figure Delaware has made it clear to her that she will have a job in Newark as long as she wants it. Martin may never have a nationally ranked team again, but she will continue to win lots of games and help turn teen-age girls into mature young women ready to make their marks in the world.
That’s the kind of legacy that can only be built over time and Martin has put in 16 good years at Delaware. And who knows – if she hangs around long enough, they might even name a building after her.