In what became their second and final year at LSU, little separated forwards Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey on the court as they helped the Tigers to their first NCAA tournament berth since 2009.
Both players averaged more than 15.0 points and 9.0 rebounds and were first-team All-Southeastern Conference picks — including the coaches’ team — at season’s end.
On Thursday night, they were separated by only eight picks in the NBA draft when Martin went to the Memphis Grizzlies with the 25th selection in the first round and Mickey was taken in the second round, 33rd overall, by the Boston Celtics.
Martin, who watched the draft unfold with family, teammates and friends in a crowded private dining room at Walk-Ons near LSU, was told he would be taken by Memphis with the 25th pick after a recent visit with club officials.
But it was still a long wait.
“I was very nervous,” he said. “My heart was pounding, and for me to get my name called was a big relief for me. It was a blessing for me to have my family around me. They were the ones that were around me when I was growing up, so it was great to come home and have them share this experience with me.”
A Baton Rouge native and Madison Prep graduate, the 6-foot-10 Martin gave up his final two seasons of college eligibility five days after LSU’s season ended with a 66-65 second-round NCAA tournament loss to N.C. State and Mickey, a Dallas native, followed suit less than a week later.
Martin led LSU, which was 22-11 overall and finished fourth in the SEC, in scoring at 16.9 points per game and was second in rebounding at 9.2 per game.
While some people thought Martin and Mickey could use another year of college experience, Martin said he was convinced he was ready mentally and physically for the next level and set to fulfill his lifelong dream.
“This has been my dream growing up,” Martin said. “Ever since the first time I touched a basketball, I dreamed about playing in the NBA. For me to fulfill this dream, it means a lot, you know. I’m truly blessed.”
Mickey led the nation with 3.6 blocked shots per game and also topped the Tigers in rebounding with 9.9 a game. He also was second on the team in scoring behind Martin with 15.4 per outing despite battling ankle and shoulder injuries.
Martin had an impressive sophomore season after he was slowed for most of his freshman campaign by a sprained ankle that he suffered in his first game with his hometown team.
He also had to deal with a position switch to the small forward position but still averaged 10.3 points and 4.6 rebounds as the Tigers reached the National Invitation Tournament.
However, a healthy Martin bounced back for a strong second season in which he ranked third in the SEC in scoring and rebounding and also finished third in the league in field-goal accuracy at 50.9 percent.
He teamed with Mickey to give LSU a potent 1-2 punch down low.
While he was consistent most of the season with 15 double-double games, Martin’s numbers jumped dramatically in the final eight games — averaging 20.1 points and 10.6 rebounds in that stretch.
Martin scored a career-high 28 points in a 70-63 win over Florida on Feb. 21 in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, treating the crowd to a thunderous slam dunk after passing the ball between his legs on the way to the goal.
He also poured in 27 points in an 81-78 road upset of Arkansas on March 7, which gave LSU the fourth seed in the SEC tournament.
A McDonald’s All-American in 2013 when he led Madison Prep to the Class B state championship, Martin is the 14th LSU player to go in the first round of the NBA draft and first since forward Anthony Randolph went 14th overall to the Golden State Warriors in 2008.
Mickey was rated as an early second-round pick since declaring for the draft in early April, which is where he went when the Celtics called.
Even though he had injury problems, Mickey, who watched the draft from his Dallas home, had 16 double-double games to go with the nine he had as a freshman.
In addition to his scoring and rebounding, his calling card was his shot-blocking ability.
He joined Shaquille O’Neal as the only players in school history to have at least 100 blocks in two seasons.
He led the SEC as a freshman with 106 in 2013-14 and backed it up with 113 more this past season.
Martin and Mickey follow former LSU teammate Johnny O’Bryant III to the NBA. O’Bryant, also a forward, was the sixth pick of the second round — and 36th overall selection — by the Milwaukee Bucks last June.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.