Last updated: February 15. 2013 9:43AM - 51 Views

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After all this excitement is over, Dave Martin will walk away from a Misericordia University basketball locker room again and go back to being an administrator.

For now, he is going to the NCAA Tournament.

He finally got there, with a group of young women – not men this time – who believed he could magically make their dreams come true.

But Martin always seems to inspire that kind of faith as a basketball coach, no matter what group of kids he happens to be working with.

"He's been energizing," Misericordia star scorer Christine Marks said.

"He's been awesome," Cougars guard Lauren Smicherko said.

He's been away too long.

Before he became the school's athletic director, Martin made Misericordia men's basketball matter during his 14 seasons at the helm.

He was always fighting an uphill battle back in the 1990s on a stage that included Middle Atlantic Conference powers Wilkes and Scranton and a King's College program that was emerging at the time. But Martin's teams never stopped swinging.

His Cougars always fought to the finish and never allowed themselves to feel like second-best, even when they runners-up for conference titles and NCAA Division III playoff berths in their old league, the Pennsylvania Athletic Conference.

Then Martin got the chance to run Misericordia's whole athletic program eight years ago, and bolted for it quicker than one of his teams on a fast break. Even if it meant leaving behind the game he loves.

"At the Division III level," Martin said, "there's a big pay discrepancy between basketball coach and AD. I have a young family. My priority was to take care of them.

"It wasn't a difficult decision."

The hard part was staying away.

All he wanted to do

Oh, Martin stayed involved with his children's teams here and there. The two grade school teams he coaches both won championships this week. And often advises his kid sister, Tina Martin, who coaches the 25-1 University of Delaware women.

"I still serve as her independent counselor," Dave Martin laughed. "We talk a lot of basketball."

It is not the same as coaching it on the college level with the constant interaction Martin's longed for.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't," he relented. "All I ever wanted to do was coach kids."

He got that chance a month ago, when women's coach Tom Griffith suddenly and mysteriously resigned.

So the big boss came out of the AD's office and headed straight back into a basketball office.

"Everybody was nervous our first practice," Smicherko said.

It turns out the rest of the Freedom Conference, where Misericordia now plays, should have been most worried.

Martin not only took a team barely above .500 when he came aboard all the way to the Freedom Conference playoffs, he marched it straight to the Freedom title and into the NCAAs.

He did it Saturday at Scandlon Gym, where an excellent King's College team was previously unbeaten on its home floor. And he did it by coaching hard from the opening tip to the final horn, the signal his Cougars were heading to the NCAAs with a 64-54 victory.

"I'm taking a lot of ribbing," Martin smiled. "I'm going to my first NCAA tournament. Coaching the girls team."

No matter what team Martin touches, the journey always starts with the same principle. You don't find the top without reaching for it.

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