Ice Cube’s BIG3 League was a huge question mark heading into it’s first season last summer. No one knew how big three-on-three basketball would become, but the nation-wide summer tournament turned into a huge hit and fed fans’ thirst for more basketball in the NBA’s offseason. Last year, 40 players joined eight BIG3 teams, and this year, a pool of more than 60 players joined in an attempt to be drafted, but only 19 were able to be selected in Thursday’s Draft.

Last year’s BIG3 champions, Trilogy, were led by team captain and former NBA player Kenyon Martin. An All-Star in the 2003-04 season, Martin finished his NBA career averaging 12.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.1 blocks in 30.6 minutes per game over 757 games in the NBA. As captain of Trilogy, Martin helped construct his team that went on to win the championship on the backs of former New York Knicks forward Al Harrington and former Minnesota Timberwolves guard Rashad McCants.

With the BIG3 combine and Draft taking place just prior to this weekend, Martin spoke exclusively to ClutchPoints about his second season with the BIG3 and what he’s looking forward to, as well as the 2018 NBA Playoffs, the Cavs, LeBron James, good friend Carmelo Anthony’s fit with the Thunder, and Kevin Durant’s well-documented beef with the officials this year.

Tomer Azarly: How would you summarize your first season with the Big 3?

Kenyon Martin: Personally, it was a great experience. I didn’t think I would be playing professional basketball again at any level. I was out for two years and until [Ice] Cube and those guys called me, I didn’t think I would be playing basketball again. It was great, competitive. A lot of guys came in, guys competed, and I had fun. I had fun doing it, being who I am, being able to be me. I had great time.

As far as our team goes, I like what we did. We went undefeated, had some close games, but we brought our A-game and it worked out. We had a group of guys that bought in and we went on to have a great season going undefeated. It don’t get no better than that. You go hooping and stay undefeated for 10 weeks? That’s the best there is.

TA: Like you said, you guys were at the top, so what are you most looking forward to in this second season?

KM: Looking forward to playing against more guys and for the competition to be better. Guys that were there last year now know what to expect. I’m looking forward to new faces, new blood, guys coming in. It’s going to be great. I’m pretty sure guys that saw us playing last year that weren’t a part of it said, ‘hey, I need to be a part of this.’ And guys that were there last year saw us go undefeated, so now they want to beat us. We’ve got a target on our backs which we accept, but it’s going to be fun starting with the combine. Had a lot of guys going up for 19 spots, so it’s going to be competitive and it’s only going to lead to a great season.

Kenyon Martin, Al Harrington, BIG3 Championship
Mark J. Rebilas/ USA TODAY Sports

TA: How confident in your chances of repeating?

KM: I like our makeup, we added Dahntay Jones, brought back the same exact team, and we’re competitive man. Our group of guys are competitive and that’s what it was about. It was going out and competing, treating everybody the same, each and every week. There were different talents, but we went out treating everybody the same. Now we got a target on our backs, but that’s not a bad thing. Gotta bring your A-game show to show up and play.

TA: With more than 60 players in the pool and only 19 of them being selected in the Draft, do you see a lot more players coming out and saying, ‘Hey, I want to be a part of this league?”

KM: I think so. It’s not the same grind as the NBA. There’s a lot of things different. The pay is not the same, the grind is not the same, but I can see guys joining man. It’s a way to stay in shape. It’s a way to keep hooping and not put a strain on your body. I think more and more guys are going to do it.

TA: If there was one player you have to choose, who would you want to see join the BIG3?

KM: I think Kevin Garnett would be good for the league. But I don’t think he’ll join, it’s not at his pay grade. We’ll see though.

TA: I’d like to shift over to the NBA for a bit. The 2018 Playoffs have just started. Who’s your favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference?

KM: Cleveland. *with a laugh* As long as LeBron James is in the East… Man, whatever team he’s on has got a shot. He’s that good. I think he has that kind of a psychological advantage over a lot of the guys that’s in the East that have played against him over the years. I think that goes a long way.

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TA: Pretty simple reasoning there. What about your favorite to come out of the Western Conference?

KM: It’s tough to go against Golden State. Of course, they gotta be healthy. They gotta be healthy, but I like what Golden State brings to the table. They compete on both ends of the floor, they’re unselfish, they share the ball, and the fans man. They average 30 assists too, so that’s tough to beat. They play that unselfish on the defensive end as well.

Stephen Curry, LeBron James

TA: So it looks like we’re headed for another Cavs-Warriors NBA Finals, is that safe to say?

KM: It looks like it. But we all know you gotta play the game. You gotta play the game and that’s where it gets tricky, but Cleveland is up for the challenge. I like the moves that they made as far as the trades, I like all of that stuff. They got guys that want to compete now. The guys that love being out there with LeBron James that don’t have an ego.

They’re coming from the Lakers and other teams that didn’t have a shot in hell at making the playoffs. You get those guys in a situation where they can make an even better name for themselves on the biggest stage playing with the best player there is in the game? I think those guys are cherishing this moment. You know [Jordan] Clarkson, [Rodney] Hood, and Larry Nance, I think those guys are cherishing this moment. I think they needed to shake things up and they did in the right way. They could’ve made moves and gotten rid of guys and it still wouldn’t have worked. They brought guys in and it worked. That’s something to hang their head on moving forward.

TA: What are your thoughts on Jason Kidd Being inducted into the Hall-of-Fame?

KM: Hey man, from Year 1. From being Co-Rookie of the Year with Grant Hill and being able to dominate throughout his career… I think he got [robbed] out of an MVP. Our first year together in Jersey, my second year, he got [robbed] out of the MVP. Great career, Hall-of-Fame numbers. Just well deserving man. If he wouldn’t have gotten first ballot that would’ve been another travesty, but he’s first ballot and he deserves it.

TA: You played a good portion of your career, in Denver and New York, with Carmelo Anthony. What are your thoughts on him and his fit with the Oklahoma City Thunder?

KM: Melo’s my friend first and foremost. I think it took some adjustment playing with Russ [Westbrook] and their style of play because it’s fast paced, and Melo is used to playing in the half court where he can use his full skill-set. He’s not a high volume three-point shooter which I think he’s had to become on that team. People look at that and say, ‘Ah man, Melo lost it.’ But nah, you put him in the right situation, right coaching, use that skillset, I think he’s a skilled player.

He’s a dynamic scorer and you can never take that away from him. I think if you put him in the right situation to use his skillset, he can help any team, but run up-and-down the court, fast-paced, that’s not his game. If you ask anybody to play that way when it’s not their style, they’re not going to look as good as they did in the past. But he’s still playing at a high level.

Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony

TA: We’ve seen Kevin Durant, who had one ejection coming into this season, already be ejected five times this year. He’s among many who have taken issue with the referees this past season. What do you think is being all that?

KM: Rule changing, man. The league has made it soft. The league has made it so that these guys expect every call. They expect them to call everything, and when they don’t, the tension starts and the referees look at it and say, ‘keep playing,’ so they come across as they don’t care. So then the tension starts. Honestly, I think it’s all rule changes. I think the rule changes have hurt the game. Certain movements made, no contact, everything is a flagrant 1, everybody’s going to line. That has hurt the league as a whole.

TA: Do you think there’s a way to come back from that?

KM: No, not at all, because you’re not gonna go back to let guys play the way they did in the 90’s, you know? Thats just not what they’re going to do. They’re not going to let guys play taht way. I think it’s what it is. There’s not big man dominating anymore. It’s guard play and if there were bigs dominating, I think it would go back that way. But everything is fast-paced, up-and-down, take a quick shot. It’s free, fluid, and I just can’t see it going back.