How an injury helped Edwardsville’s Kate Martin make it to the WNBA

Injury helped Las Vegas Aces rookie Kate Martin make WNBALas Vegas Aces guard Kate Martin dribbles the ball up the court during Thursday’s game against the Chicago Sky inside Wintrust Arena in Chicago.

Rick Brewer/Ricks Pics Photography

Sitting inside a quiet Wintrust Arena as several of her Las Vegas Aces teammates put up shots, Edwardsville High School graduate Kate Martin came to realize one of the toughest moments of her life may have very well put her on the path to the WNBA.

A torn ACL injury suffered at a practice before the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association All-Star Game in June 2018 meant Martin was going to have to take a medical redshirt for her freshman year with the Iowa Hawkeyes.

But that extra year, along with the COVID year, may have been just what Martin needed to help her to being a second-round selection by Las Vegas in the 2024 WNBA Draft.

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“I don’t think I’m in the WNBA right now,” said Martin, whose averaging 3.9 points and 2.4 rebounds for the 9-6 Aces.

Martin suffered a torn ACL and lateral meniscus in her left knee less than a month after graduating from Edwardsville, where she helped the Tigers to a second-place finish in the Class 4A state tournament in 2017 and a fourth-place finish in 2018. The 6-foot guarded ended her career with 1,518 points.

At the time of the injury, which was the result of a collision in a practice, Martin could only think about her childhood dream of playing for the Hawkeyes was going to be delayed for at least a year. She wasn’t cleared to practice until the following June after Iowa made its first Elite Eight appearance since 1993.

“When I got hurt, all I was thinking was why did this happen to me and couldn’t believe it was happening right now at the start of my college career,” Martin said.

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That redshirt year and the COVID year turned out to be life-changing, as Martin became a fan favorite with Iowa, where she was known as “The Glue,” and helped the Hawkeyes to the NCAA championship game in 2023 and 2024 alongside best friend and all-time NCAA basketball leading scorer Caitlin Clark.

It was the friendship with Clark that brought Martin to the WNBA Draft in Brooklyn. She was there to support Clark, who was drafted first overall by the Indiana Fever, before she, herself, was selected in the second round by Las Vegas while sitting in the crowd with college teammates.

“If I wouldn’t have gotten hurt my freshman year at Iowa, I wouldn’t be in the position that I am in now,” Martin said. “It shows that everything happens for a reason…and that there are bigger plans out there for you.”

Windy City debut

Martin’s WNBA path took her to Chicago’s Wintrust Arena to face the Chicago Sky on Thursday for her first professional game inside her home state.

Among the 9,025 in attendance Thursday were Martin’s parents, Matt and Jill. They made the three-hour drive across Interstate 88 from their current home in the Quad Cities.

“I feel really grateful that my family is taking the time to drive here and come see me play,” Martin said. “Being so far away in Vegas, when I am with my family I try to soak up every minute.”

There were also plenty of Iowa fans in the building that were easily spotted in their Martin No. 20 jerseys.

“It makes me feel really good that I have really good fan support and support from family and friends,” Martin said.

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And Martin’s supporters were loud when she checked into the game with 8:04 left in the second quarter and then drilled a 3-pointer from the wing 12 seconds later. She finished the game with three points, one rebound and one assist in seven minutes of the 95-83 win for the Aces.

Dream come true

Growing up in southern Illinois, Martin dreamt of playing college basketball for the Iowa Hawkeyes. It was her dream school. She had a Hawkeyes poster on her ceiling that she would fall asleep to each night.

That dream has carried over into the WNBA with two-time defending league champion Aces.

“It’s very surreal,” Martin said. “I was just a young kid that had a dream to play at Iowa. From there, I’m living out my dream further and playing at a higher level now. It’s really cool and I’m grateful for it.”

While Martin admitted to not having any posters of the current WNBA stars, she said she’s still in awe being on the same court. Her current teammates in Las Vegas include Team USA players A’Ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray, Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum.

“I did a captain’s meeting with Brittney Griner and I was like, ‘What the (heck)?’ It was crazy,” Martin said. “And then you have Diana Taurasi, A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young.

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“All of these players, I grew up watching when I was younger and then in high school and college. I looked up to these players. To be part of the same organization as them, that’s my surreal moment and I feel happy to be part of that.”

Martin is soaking up every minute of it.

“I don’t think it will ever hit me until I’m old and I can look back at it and appreciate everything,” Martin said. “I want to be where my feet are and not take anything for granted. I’m appreciating every opportunity I have now and appreciating every single moment that I get.”

Rookie class popularity

Martin was one of 13 players selected in 2024 WNBA Draft to make opening-day rosters.

Of the 13, four are ranked in the top 12 in WNBA All-Star voting, including Clark at No. 2 and Martin at No. 12. Chicago Sky forward Angel Reese is seventh and Los Angeles Sparks forward Cameron Brink is 11th. Brink is out for the season after suffering a torn ACL.

“I feel really grateful to be part of this rookie class. There are a lot of great rookies. All of them are great and phenomenal. It was really fun to watch them during their college careers and now see us living out our dreams,” Martin said.

Martin said she and Clark remain in daily contact.

“We talk every single day. That’s not going to change. She’s one of my best friends,” Martin said. “I’m going to always support her and she’s going to always support me.”

Unlike Martin, Clark entered the WNBA with very high expectations after scoring a record 3,951 points with unlimited shooting range and unmatched creativity with the basketball.

Taken as the No. 1 overall pick by the Fever, Clark is averaging 16.3 points, 6.6 assists and 5.4 rebounds. She set the franchise-record with 13 assists in a loss to the Chicago Sky on Sunday in Chicago.

Clark, though, hasn’t been a stranger to criticism. Her former college teammate isn’t offering any of it.

“Whenever you’re one of the best – and she had a phenomenal college career – expectations are high,” Martin said. “She’s not going to be perfect but she’s having a phenomenal rookie season. People expected her to be perfect. If you look at her numbers and everything she is doing right now, she’s doing tremendous.

“I came into the league with no expectations. I don’t think people thought I was going to do anything. I guess I’m exceeding people’s expectations in that way.”

Martin has been a fan favorite for the Aces. She has earned the nicknames “Money Martin” and “K$,” and even her fan club is known as “The Martinis.”

‘This is my job’

Basketball has been part of Martin’s life since she was little.

Martin was an IESA state champion as an eighth-grader at Liberty Middle School, a standout performer at EHS, where she enjoyed an All-State senior season, and a star with the Hawkeyes, who turned into celebrities for much of 2023-24.

At Iowa, Martin obtained her master’s degree in sports and recreation management. She earned her bachelor’s degree in the field in May 2022.

While coaching has been in Martin’s future, it’s currently on hold with the Las Vegas Aces as her employer.

“It’s funny, this is my job now,” Martin said.

Writing research papers and attending classes in Iowa City have been replaced in the last couple of months.

“We’re at the facility for about eight hours each day. You have film, extra shots, treatment and lifting,” Martin said.

There’s plenty of extra Martin must do away from the training facility to be ready to keep up with the rigors of a WNBA schedule. This year’s regular season runs from May 14 to September 19 with each team playing 40 games. That doesn’t include the postseason, which could add an additional 13 games to the body.

“You have to take care of your body. I eat a specific way. I train physically and mentally a very specific way because it’s my job now,” Martin said. “I have to be prepared and be in the best shape I can possibly be in.”

Vegas, baby

Martin has officially made the move to Las Vegas. She is currently living by herself in an apartment set up by the organization.

Though Las Vegas offers plenty to do, Martin said she keeps it simple.

“I really don’t do a whole lot,” Martin said, laughing. “I like living alone and I like being in Vegas. It’s warm there.

“It’s beautiful there, though. We’re surrounded by mountains, which is definitely something different. It’s great to be surrounded by all of that and the beauty of it. It’s a great area.”

Martin said she’s trying to get out a little bit more to take advantage of the scenic terrain, which include the Spring Mountains near Las Vegas Valley.

“I don’t have a lot of time, but I’m trying to explore as much as I can,” Martin said.

Thursday’s trip, though, did offer Martin a break from the heat.

“I have missed the Midwest weather. It was nice walking around (Chicago) and not burning up. I’m always burning up in Vegas,” Martin said.

How long Martin has to get used to the heat in Las Vegas, that’s up to the Aces organization.

Martin knows that and she’s taking a modest approach to all of it. She’s currently signed to a four-year, $297,045 contract.

“You see trades happen all of the time and players getting cut all of the time. I’m just staying where my feet are right now and focusing on what I have right now,” Martin said. “I don’t know what my life is going to look like a year from now. Obviously, I would love to spend my entire time with this team and organization.

“You just never really know what’s going to happen. I can’t think too far ahead.”