HUNTINGTON - J.J. Martin is following a tough act, but is thrilled for the opportunity to do so.
Martin was hired as the new head boys basketball coach at Cabell Midland High School on Tuesday, replacing Rick Chaffin, who retired to spend more time with family. Martin was an assistant to Chaffin the last two seasons when the Knights went 27-21, including 19-8 last season when they won the Class AAA, Region IV championship and advanced to the state tournament. Cabell Midland upset defending state champion George Washington 64-62 in overtime in the first round before losing to eventual champion University 71-52 in the semifinals.
The Knights state tournament trip was their first since 2002 and its winning season was the program's first since 2010.
"I'm excited," Martin said. "After two years of learning from somebody such as Rick, I've learned a lot. I'm glad he gave me a chance. Cabell Midland is a really good school and the basketball program is good, now. All of the programs are good."
Chaffin said the Cabell County Board of Education made a great choice in Martin, who played at Huntington High where Chaffin was an assistant to current Cabell Midland principal Lloyd McGuffin when Martin was there.
"J.J. is very knowledgeable and the players responded very well to his coaching," Chaffin said. "J.J. played a huge role in both practice and games. I told coach Martin this past season he was no longer my assistant but associate head coach and he really stepped up in helping us to a Final Four appearance in the state tournament."
Chaffin said Martin inherits a solid situation with several players expected to return, including Chandler Schmidt, an all-stater last season as a freshman guard. Also back is 6-foot-9 rising junior center Sean Marcum and rising junior guard Palmer Riggio.
"Coach Martin will do great service for the Midland program," Chaffin said. "I look forward to him building on our success."
Martin will have to replace two college players, Ty Sturm who is a preferred walk-on at Marshall University and Jake Edwards, who signed with Geneva College. Martin, a NCAA Division III All-American as a senior, said he thinks his college experience can help Cabell Midland's players who desire to play after high school, as well as those who don't have such talent.
"I love working with kids," Martin said. "I love trying to help them grow."
Martin said he doesn't expect to change much of what Chaffin did, but will add some of his own touches to the program.
"I was a part of all that," Martin said of Chaffin's work the last two seasons. "Coach Chaffin gave me a lot of room to work. He put in a really good system that works. We want to be good in transition and pushing the ball. The No. 1 thing is defense. We want to get stops, get rebounds and get the ball out in transition. We want to hold teams under their average. If we do that, we give ourselves a good chance to win."
A system will take a team only so far. Martin said the guys in the uniforms are key to success.
"You can come up with great plays, but having great players is better," Martin said. "We'll work hard in the offseason. All these guys are committed. A system works depending on your personnel."