Martin introduced as GAC hoops coach

NORCROSS - When Greater Atlanta Christian approached Eddie Martin about the recent boys basketball coaching opening last week, it wasn't the first time.

But after turning down GAC at least twice over the last decade, the 26-year Gwinnett coaching veteran decided the time was right for him to make the trip five miles across town.

Martin was introduced as the Spartans' new head coach on Tuesday, leaving a Norcross program he'd built into a state-wide and national powerhouse over the past six seasons. He replaces Mike Mitchell just one day after the latter announced he was leaving to return to his hometown of Florence, Ala., to coach at Mars Hill Bible School.

"I'm very excited and very happy to be here," an emotional Martin said. "Technically, it was a (quick process), but really, it wasn't. I've had (GAC) in my heart a lot over the last 30 years. ... When (the opening) came open, I realized if I walk away from it now, I may never have that opportunity again. I began my career (at GAC), and I'm looking forward to ending it here."

The announcement brought the 52-year-old Martin's career full circle, as he began coaching as an assistant under GAC's first head coach, Jackie Bradford, who was in attendance at Tuesday's press conference.

"I'm extremely proud (Martin is back at GAC)," said Bradford, who guided GAC to three state championships in his 15-year tenure. "It's been a joy to see him mature (as a coach). He's gotten the maximum out of his teams. When he was with us, he also coached our eighth-grade team. He captured those kids' attention and respect. He taught them the little things and they were very successful when they came up to us (on the varsity)."

After his start at GAC, Martin had a brief stint as eighth-grade coach at Lawrenceville Middle School before starting the program at Brookwood when it opened in 1981, guiding the Broncos to 350 wins, two region championships and seven state tournament berths - including one Final Four appearance - over the next 20 years.

But it is the last six years at Norcross in which he's enjoyed the most success. Martin led the Blue Devils to a 170-18 record that included three region championships, becoming the first team in almost 70 years to win three straight state titles in Georgia's highest classification and earning several national rankings - including being ranked No. 7 in ESPN High's Elite 25 poll and No. 6 in USA Today's Super 25 poll.

Martin said his decision to leave a program like that - even to join one with a special place in his heart like GAC's - was not one that was made lightly.

"You don't walk away from a program like Norcross (without a good reason)," Martin said. "Here (at GAC), I have the same feeling. There's always a part of me left at Norcross, just like there was at Brookwood, and like I'm sure there will be here when I leave.

"It's a very difficult situation. There's nothing wrong with that program (at Norcross). Whoever takes over there has a lot of talent coming back."

Of course, the cupboard isn't exactly bare at the new program Martin will take over at GAC.

The Spartans went 26-4 and were ranked No. 9 in Class AA after advancing to the second round of the state tournament in Mitchell's only season this past winter.

They also return several key players from that team, including 6-foot-6 post Trent Wiedeman (13.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and sharpshooting wing Taylor Metzger (11.9 ppg, 2.1 apg).

"It should be exciting," Metzger said about playing for Martin. "All his teams play defense well. Offensively, they do a lot of what we do - pushing the ball up the floor. I think we can do that here.

"It's still kind of a shock. We just found out (Monday) about Coach Mitchell leaving, and we were really sad. But (Tuesday), we found out Eddie Martin is coming here. So, that's exciting."