In the end, it was kind of inevitable. After mulling over their four- and five-year amateur basketball careers, respectively, UConn men’s basketball guards Tyrese Martin and RJ Cole decided it was time to join the professional ranks. Both players announced their decisions on social media, with Martin posting last week, and Cole posting on Monday.
The two transfer students enjoyed two prosperous years at UConn, becoming full-time starters and providing an impact to a program that is still growing under head coach Dan Hurley. Both were allowed to come back for one more year under the NCAA’s rule allowing another season of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but both decided to go professional after the Huskies’ season-ending defeat to New Mexico State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament two weeks ago.
Martin came to Storrs from the University of Rhode Island, where he actually was recruited by Hurley but opted to stay when his head coach left for UConn. He was a mainstay there, working his way into the starting rotation his freshman year and becoming a key contributor from that point on. Martin didn’t have to sit out a year as a transfer, and immediately made an impact for the Huskies as well. He’s been UConn’s third-leading scorer in back-to-back seasons, behind NBA lottery pick James Bouknight, Cole and all-conference talent Adama Sanogo. This year, he achieved a career milestone of 1000 total collegiate points.
This past season, Martin was impressive as always, putting up 13.6 points , 7.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. His rebounding mark was second-best on the team behind Sanogo, and his impact on the glass really helped the Huskies get crucial swings and second-chance points. There are a few reasons why Connecticut was the best rebounding team in the Big East, and Martin outperforming guards on the boards every night was a big part of that equation. While he didn’t make an All-Big East team, he was named to the All-Tournament team this year.
“To my brothers… This team holds a special place in my heart. I’m going to miss going to war with you guys. All the memories we made will last a lifetime as well as our bond! I love you all!!!” Martin said in his farewell Instagram post.
This past year, fellow beat writer Dave Borges was able to sit down with some NBA scouts and get a feel for where a few Huskies might end up. Martin was projected to be a G-League/2-way player for the NBA. Although it’s still a tough road ahead for Martin to make an NBA roster, there will absolutely be opportunities for him to play professionally, whether it is here or overseas.
Cole, also a transfer, came to Storrs by way of Howard University. Connected to Hurley from being a star at powerhouse St. Anthony’s in Jersey City, formerly coached by Bob Hurley, Cole worked his way up the ranks. In his first year at Howard, he earned MEAC Rookie of the Year, and he won MEAC Player of the Year the following season. The guard had to sit out a year due to transfer rules, but made an immediate impact with Connecticut when he was able to hit the court.
A two-year starter, Cole led the team this season with 15.8 points and 4.1 assists per game. The ability to knock down tough shots when needed cannot go overlooked, and for the Huskies, Cole was that guy time and time again. The fact that he outscored Sanogo, a finalist for best center in the country, is impressive. His high point totals helped him achieve his 2,000th career point this season.
Besides his scoring impact, Cole’s ability to draw charges at the other end of the floor really helped UConn get turnovers and gain momentum in big spots. His most iconic moment has to be against Villanova this year, when he made a crafty shot under the basket with five seconds in the game to take the lead, and also drew a charge the following play to seal the victory. At the end of the year, Cole was rewarded with an All-Big East First Team nod.
“… it has been an unforgettable three years. There’s a reason this is the Basketball Capital of the World. The way the fans Bleed Blue here is on a different level, special in fact and I loved every second of it,” said Cole in his Instagram post.
Going back to the NBA scout analysis, Cole was labeled a “really rock-solid guy, but doesn’t quite have enough pop for the NBA.” While that may be the case, there will absolutely be a place for the graduate student either in the G-League or overseas.
Both Cole and Martin will be competing for their share of $150,000 this weekend in the 2022 Dos Equis 3X3U National Championship, which consists of 64 players across college basketball. This event should be great draft exposure for both of them, as it is a registered FIBA tournament. Through the first three years of the tournament, 200 participants have signed professional contracts.
Cole and Martin will play together on the Beast Coast Ballers, composed of players from the Big East and the Atlantic 10 Conferences. The pool stage will take place on April 1st and 2nd, while the knockout round will be on April 3rd. All games will be broadcast on ESPN Networks and Twitter.
While both guys will surely be missed in Storrs, they will undoubtedly have a great impact wherever they go in the basketball world.