On most Saturday afternoons, Alex Martin either must be part of the show or the one who stops it.
Martin prefers the latter.
"Sure, I know I can be totally embarrassed on any day when you play against the stars, and sometimes I get a little nervous, but I love the challenge," said Martin. "As a matter of fact, I get ecstatic about playing against the best."
Martin, a resident of Owings Mills who attended Gilman, is the latest outstanding defenseman to roll out of North Carolina. He'll be on display again tomorrow, when the No. 2 Tar Heels meet ninth-ranked Virginia in the first game of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament at the University of Maryland's Byrd Stadium. No. 5 Maryland will face Duke in the second game.
Martin will be the guy glued to the shirt of Virginia All-America attackman Kevin Pehlke, a Calvert Hall grad. Martin always draws the other team's best attackman.
In a previous meeting this year, Martin held Pehlke to two assists. He also limited Loyola's Kevin Beach to two assists and shut out Duke's Joe Matassa. Syracuse's Tom Marechek did score four goals, but they were mostly of the garbage variety.
"When we play them, he's one of the first players I think about," said Loyola coach Dave Cottle. "He has shut down everybody. He should be an All-American."
Maryland coach Dick Edell said: "They lost two outstanding defensemen from a year ago in Graham Harden and Bryan Kelly, so somebody had to step forward. Martin has done so. He's done an excellent job."
Martin, 6 feet, 188 pounds, has good size for a defenseman, but he doesn't try to overpower opponents. He's also not as talented as Harden, who was great at take-aways and creating offense.
Martin's game is positioning, sometimes forcing an opponent to his weak hand or making him work at difficult angles. Once that is established early in the game, the take-aways come second.
"Alex plays well within his limitations," said North Carolina coachDave Klarmann. "And, to do that, he has been very disciplined, strong-willed and showed no fear. He has a huge heart."
"I want the attackman to know that if he is going to go to the goal, he's going to have to go through me," said Martin.
Martin practically lives in the film room and has a mental library on most of the best attackmen. Mention several players, and he can describe them without hesitation:
* Pehlke: "Very dangerous, sees the whole field well."
* Marechek: "Great finisher on opportunities, likes the transition."
* Beach: "Very strong. Most dangerous when he gets the ball down inside."
* Matassa: "Very quick and fast. Good stick movement."
"I try not to set standards of trying to hold a guy to a goal or two goals, because if they hit that limit, it could take you out of the game," Martin said. "What I try to do is make sure the player I'm guarding doesn't control the tempo of the game. If he gets it, then I want to take it back."