Saint Joseph's coach teams with paralyzed student

Saint Joseph's coach teams with paralyzed student

Tuesday, Februrary 15, 2011
Posted: 2:39 p.m.

By Dan Gelston
The Associated Press

Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli on Wednesday will take the court with the most inspirational walk-on of his career.

No scorecard needed -- but keep the tissues handy.

Lenny Martelli Jr., no relation to the famous Hawks coach, remembers little about the Feb. 15, 2010 snowboarding accident that left him paralyzed. Only 15 years old, he lay motionless on the snow, fearing his normal life was finished.

"As soon it happened, I just thought about not playing football," Martelli said. "I thought about not being able to do certain things. I had to accept that right away."

His acceptance wouldn't last long.

He had a broken neck, not a crushed spirit.

Lenny Martelli survived surgery and rehabilitation, and was tutored for months in a hospital bed. He listened to doctors tell him he may never walk again.

With the aid of canes, though, Martelli has ditched the hospital and started walking. He even plays guitar in a band. And on Wednesday night, he'll walk onto the court with Phil Martelli before the Hawks (7-17, 2-8 Atlantic 10) take on No. 24 Xavier (18-6, 9-1).

"I told him when he gets healthy," Phil Martelli said, "I want him to walk on the court with me at a game."

Because one Martelli kept his promise to a coach, the other delivered with a chance of a lifetime. And he'll do it the day after the one-year anniversary of the worst day of his life.

Lenny Martelli was like any teen who seemingly had it all. He played sports, went to school at Bishop Kenrick, played drums with a passion. He also enjoyed snowboarding.

But one freak accident nearly robbed him of his ability to walk and fulfill his future. When the accident happened near Schwenksville, Pa., where he was with two close friends, he immediately had no feeling from the chest down. He told his friends he couldn't move. They didn't touch him and he was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery.

His family, of Plymouth Meeting, Pa., was called and only told their son was in an accident.

His mother, Leti, recalled a harrowing scene of hearing paramedics yell in a hall "Code blue! Code blue! Move out of the way!" She saw them rushing a stretcher with a white blanket covering the body and knew it had to be her son.

"He had a smile on his face saying, 'It's OK, mom. Don't cry, mom. Don't cry," she said. "He said, 'I just can't feel anything.' That made me cry even more."

He underwent six hours of surgery and doctors fused bones from his hip with vertebrae in his neck. His spinal cord was bruised in the accident, as well.

Lenny Martelli spent a week in a Philadelphia hospital, then three months in a rehabilitation facility. Leti Martelli stayed by her son's side and lived at the hospital while her husband was at home taking care of their other two children. Leti Martelli rented an apartment in Philadelphia and pushed her son in a wheelchair every day to a new therapy center.

During this confusing and depressing time, Lenny Martelli never cried.

"I think I shed one tear when the priest from our church came to talk me," said Martelli, who turns 17 in July. "I didn't want to let anyone to see I was hurt."

The time around doctors and staff eventually led to many questions that had nothing to do with adjusting to his unexpected new life: Are you related to Phil Martelli?

The answer, was no. But Lenny was a sports fan and he certainly knew all about the coach who led the Hawks to a No. 1 national ranking in the 2003-04 season. He told his mom it would be cool if he had to chance to meet the basketball coach.

His mom called the basketball office and startled a work-study student who answered the phone with her tale.

The student told Martelli he had to take the call. At first, he declined because he was watching tape and it almost seemed "made up." Not only did they share the same last name, Martelli once coached at Bishop Kenrick.

But when the student insisted he talk to the crying woman on the other line, his interest was soon raised.

"I said is your name really Martelli," he asked. "You really went to Bishop Kenrick?"

He started visiting Lenny and keeps in monthly contact with him.

"People touch me, too," Phil Martelli said. "I'm fortunate."

The SJU coach made Lenny, still in a wheelchair at the first meeting, promise he'd work hard and use all his will to complete his goal of walking again.

"He's fun and motivational," he said. "I kind of took what he said more importantly than what some of the doctors said sometimes. I always listened to coaches and always followed what coaches said. So when Coach told me what to do and to keep pushing and try harder, that's what I kept in mind at all times."

Lenny shocked doctors with his progress (updates are posted on the "Prayer's for Lenny Martelli" Facebook page). He took steps with a walker in June and now relies on two canes. He could probably walk without them, if not for some balance issues and occasional leg stiffness and spasms.

And there are bigger plans ahead. The surgeon told the family he could pass a driver's test at a rehabilitation center in order to get his license. It is a driver's test for quadriplegics, and it will determine if any special needs will go into his ability to drive a car.

He had to give up the drums, but that's OK for now. He plays guitar and sings in an alt-pop rock band called The Summer Assault.

His old school closed, but he's now studying for the SATs as a junior at Pope John Paul II High in Royersford, Pa. Along the way, he found that fitting in with his classmates kept him motivated to break free from the wheelchair.

"I could never picture myself in a wheelchair rolling through the hallways," he said. "I pictured myself back up, back walking, doing everything I used to do."

Tuesday is not only the anniversary of the accident -- it's his parents 19th wedding anniversary. Lenny Martelli talked his way out of attending a celebratory lunch last year for his parents, so he could use the snowboard he received at Christmas. His parents took the call about the accident at that lunch.

"I can't go back to that day," Leti Martelli said.

But she'll be able to remember Wednesday forever. Even though her son hasn't decided if he'll use the canes for his big trek to the Hawks bench.

Either way, Lenny Martelli is just thankful he'll be able to walk on the court at a school whose motto boasts of a spirit that will never die.

"Every day's a new day," he said, "and a blessing."

2011 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

Sports Uncovered Podcast: How to listen to episode on Oregon football's uniform revolution

NBC Sports

Sports Uncovered Podcast: How to listen to episode on Oregon football's uniform revolution

Forget about Chip Kelly for a second: When you think of the University of Oregon, you probably think of their uniforms.

Each season, the Ducks push jersey and helmet designs to new heights, and their trailblazing influence has trickled down throughout college athletics. It all started in the 1990s, when Oregon decided to get crazy - and it worked.

In the second episode of NBC Sports' "Sports Uncovered" podcast series, NBC Sports Northwest takes a deep dive into how Oregon sparked a fashion transformation across college football with a mascot change, and with unique Nike uniforms that helped push the program into the national college football coversation.

The episode features in-depth interviews with former Oregon football head coach Mike Bellotti, former Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington, and more.

The episode releases Thursday, June 11. You can listen to this episode and the entire "Sports Uncovered" series by subscribing for free wherever you listen to podcasts.

To catch every episode, be sure to subscribe to "Sports Uncovered" and have every episode automatically downloaded to your phone. Sports Uncovered is available on the MyTeams app and on every major podcasting platform: Apple, Google Podcast, iHeart, Stitcher, Spotify, and TuneIn

Listen and subscribe to the "Sports Uncovered" podcast:

Jay Wright talks Saddiq Bey, missing March Madness, Phillies

USA Today Images

Jay Wright talks Saddiq Bey, missing March Madness, Phillies

It's been 12 days since Villanova's season ended abruptly due to the coronavirus crisis. Jay Wright held a video conference on Wednesday to discuss a number of topics. 

Here are the major takeaways from Wright's session with the media.  

This March is different

Villanova missed out on opportunities to win a fourth straight Big East Tournament and participate in the NCAA Tournament for the 15th time in the last 16 years. The Wildcats won eight of their final nine games to clinch a share of the Big East regular season title. Not having a chance to shine in the postseason stings. 

"Missing the NCAA Tournament is obviously tough for our guys," Wright said. "We felt like we were playing great basketball, coming on strong. I always say we want to play our best basketball at the end of the year, and I think we were doing that. It is what it is, our guys get it. 

"It's a great example of our mantra 'attitude'. We try to teach our guys that you don't have control over what happens in life. What you do have control of is your response to what happens to you. 

"I don't know if there's even been a March where I wasn't either in (the NCAA Tournament), watching it or recruiting during it. I'm testing myself on what else is there in me? Being a better father, being a better husband. Spending more time with the kids, watching more movies, reading more, trying to be more worldly. I'm not very good at it but I'm trying."

Will Saddiq Bey leave for the NBA? 

Arguably the biggest question concerning Wright's team heading into the offseason is will Saddiq Bey leave for the NBA or will he return for his junior season at Villanova? Wright mentioned that Bey was especially disappointed when this season was cut short. He realizes that he has a big decision to make on his future. Wright discussed Bey's future plans as well as freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who is also considered an NBA prospect. 

"The NBA is still on hold," Wright said. "They don't have a plan yet for what they're going to do with the pre-draft process or the draft yet. Saddiq and Jeremiah probably both will go through that process when we find out what it is. They're waiting on us for information, should they start working out? We're trying to get them as much information as possible. 

"If we were in a normal timeline, they would both go through the process. As we learn what the NBA is going to do there are so many possibilities. Just to take it to an extreme, there's a possibility they might not have a pre-draft process and just have the draft with no workouts, using the evaluations they had during the season. 

"We're communicating with both of them daily. Saddiq is having a tough time trying to find a place to work out in [his hometown] Washington D.C. He just got a gym to get into so he can shoot, he can't find a gym to get into to lift. Jeremiah is trying to find a place around here to get into to shoot."

2020 Summer Olympics postponed

Wright was supposed to spend a portion of his summer as an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic men's basketball team in Tokyo. But with this week's announcement that the Olympics are postponed, his plans have changed. 

"It's the right decision," Wright said. "I feel bad for all of those athletes that it's once in a lifetime experience. I really feel bad for them. For basketball guys it's not as difficult. I talked with [U.S. head coach Greg Popovich] yesterday. It's postponed, obviously not cancelled, postponed until some time next spring or summer. There's a lot of questions there. They could do it late spring, when you might not have NBA players. If they did it in the summer maybe you do have NBA players. We have to wait for the IOC to make those decisions. 

"For us personally (at Villanova), it's kind of crazy because we thought we came up with this great plan. I was going to have to leave our offseason program for the Olympics. We had a plan to work around that, and now it doesn't matter. We'll be here in June and July. Now we don't even know if the players will be here. We worked so hard to put this plan in place for me being away and now it doesn't even matter."

Phillies season on hold

A Bucks County native, Wright is a huge Philadelphia sports fan. He had Phillies season tickets as a kid and is a regular at Citizens Bank Park during the summer months. Like all Phillies fans, he's disappointed the baseball season isn't starting this week.

"The end of the basketball season was always sobering," Wright said. "But what always saved us was the start of the Phillies. Opening Day and the start of baseball season in our family is a big deal. 

"We watch the spring training games, we'll even joke, 'Who do the Phillies play tonight?' It's really surreal. Spring time without baseball, especially the Phillies, is bizarre. It's really the way myself and my family get ourselves out of basketball mode. We go to Opening Day, we go to the Phillies games, we love 'Bark in the Park', we always bring the dogs. We're really going to miss it."

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