When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, trainer and skills coach Tim Martin was out on a tennis court four days a week in Dallas, demonstrating different drills with no one else there. It was just him and his laptop as he conducted workouts through Zoom.
His client was 5,000 miles away in Paris with a pair of AirPods in, listening intently to Martin's instructions and then almost immediately implementing them correctly. Then-16-year-old Victor Wembanyama was like no one Martin had ever trained before, and he knew early on Wembanyama was going to be special.
"His ability to retain information and be able to master it on the court is just unreal," Martin told Yahoo Sports. "When we were working out through Zoom, it was so different, but he found ways to get better every single day."
Martin would show him different drills and give him feedback whether that was correcting his ball placement, telling him to keep his chest down or add arc to his shot. These almost daily Zoom workouts continued for six months until the start of Wembanyama's season with Nanterre 92 in September 2020.
"I would tell him to do something and it only takes one rep before he understands and gets it. It’s different with every player I work with, but with Victor it’s, ‘OK, do this or that,’ and he’ll just go in and perfect whatever I showed him five minutes prior, he won’t forget it. The next workout I’ll have him do something else, but it will stem from something we worked on two weeks ago and he’ll do that," Martin said while shaking his head. "He’s always evolving with such ease and wants to get better every time he steps on the court. That’s what makes him great and what separates him from everyone else."
Once gyms started to open, Martin continued his Zoom workouts with Wembanyama and also did in-person workouts with some of his NBA clients. Martin has trained countless NBA players over the years, helping players like Trae Young, Rudy Gobert, Nic Claxton, Josh Powell and PJ Washington improve their craft.
He would get done running through drills with Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner and Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey and then virtually work out Wembanyama. Both Maxey and Turner would get a chance to say hi and it would be another year and a half before the three would work out as a group in person.
"It was a really interesting phase, but it was a good starting point for our relationship for him to continue to build on the fundamentals and foundation on leading him into the next part of his career," Martin added.
— Tim Martin (@TimMartin_TX) September 5, 2022
This past summer, Wembanyama and his family traveled to Dallas to get in the gym with Martin for three weeks. Maxey remembers seeing Wembanyama walk in for the first time and was immediately blown away by his size.
"He's huge, he's really tall," Maxey told Yahoo Sports. "To see him on film or highlights is different than seeing him in person."
The first time the pair worked out together with Martin was at the end of one of Maxey's individual sessions. Wembanyama wanted to work on his lateral quickness and asked Maxey to play one-on-one — with Wembanyama playing defense the entire time.
"No one has ever said, ‘Hey, come on, man, let’s play one-on-one, but I’ll be on defense the whole time.’ I’ve never heard of that before in my life," Maxey said. "Every time I would score, he’s so competitive he wanted to get every stop, he would ask to go again and again just so he could get reps on the guard switch on the perimeter. That was when I was like, 'OK, this dude is different.'"
For as good as Wembanyama is on offense, Martin says it's his defense that impresses him the most. Offensively, Wembanyama is draining one-legged 3-pointers like it's no big deal, catching lobs in transition after taking off from the free-throw line and showcasing his elite footwork in the paint. Defensively, it's the subtle things that don't show up on the stat line that stick out the most.
Victor Wembanyama hit this three off one foot 😲pic.twitter.com/89nAr7k1ak
— Yahoo Sports NBA (@YahooSportsNBA) November 4, 2022
"He’s probably altering 40% of the shots taken when he’s on the court," Martin said. "He’s blocking jump shots from a weak-side rotation, not a lot of guys are doing that. He can cover so much ground, it’s crazy. If Victor was in the NBA today, he'd be the best defensive player in the league. On ball he can switch, he can drop down low, shoot the gap, everything."
Wembanyama put the entire basketball world on notice during two exhibition games in Henderson, Nevada, in early October. He averaged 36.5 points and 4.5 blocks in a pair of games against tough competition and former pros on the G League Ignite team. While everyone was watching in awe as Wembanyama dropped seven 3-pointers in the first game and completely took over the second game, doing anything and everything to will his team to victory, Martin sat in the Dollar Loan Center and was focused on the subtle things Wembanyama was doing.
"I’m not really watching the game, I’m watching him," Martin said. "I’m waiting for the minor mistake. Maybe it’s in his footwork or ball placement. I’m watching how he breathes during free throws. Maybe it’s him not using his hips around the seam or holding his breath when he shoots. How he’s catching the ball, his back if he’s not getting low, if he’s top-heavy. Those aspects that don’t really stand out is what I’m watching and looking for when he plays."
Wembanyama is like no prospect NBA scouts have ever seen. He is the most highly anticipated player to hit the league since LeBron James in 2003. The top players in the NBA have all taken notice of Wembanyama with James calling him a generational-type talent.
"Everybody’s been a unicorn over the last few years, but he’s more like an alien," the Los Angeles Lakers star said of Wembanyama after seeing him play for the first time. "No one has ever seen anyone as tall as he is but as fluid and as graceful as he is out on the floor. His ability to put the ball on the floor, shoot step-back jumpers out of the post, catch-and-shoot threes, block shots."
"The league is really in trouble when he comes in. ... Everybody's really excited for his arrival to the league," Kevin Durant said.
"Get ready, my friend," Giannis Antetokounmpo told Serge Ibaka on his cooking show. "I've never seen this before in my life. He's taller than Rudy Gobert. He can block shots like Rudy, but he shoots like Kevin Durant. Bro, it's crazy. And he has a good attitude. If he stays healthy, he's going to be really good."
Even players in Wembanyama's draft class have been left more than impressed with what they've seen early from the French phenom.
"You don't ever see 7-foot-4 guys dribbling the ball and shooting like KD, it's crazy," Arkansas freshman Nick Smith Jr., a projected top-five pick in the upcoming NBA draft, told Yahoo Sports. "He's a great player and he does things on the court where you're just like, 'What? How did he do that?' I'm excited to see what he does in the league."
Wembanyama has drawn early NBA comparisons to Gobert, Durant and Kristaps Porzingis and is projected to be a mix of all three players. For Martin, there is no player comp for Wembanyama.
"He’s someone we’ve never seen before," Martin said. "Victor’s carving his own lane in this basketball world and there really is no ceiling for Victor. He’ll go to outer space if he needs to."
"Honestly, he’s just Victor, there is no comp for him," Maxey added. "I’m not going to call him Kevin Durant, I’m not going to call him Rudy Gobert, he’s just Victor. I can’t put another name on him and I can’t wait to see him compete at the NBA level."
Martin will continue to work with Wembanyama leading up to the draft, whether that's through phone calls checking in, or traveling to France for games during his season with Metropolitans 92. There is immense pressure on a player not only who is projected to be the No. 1 pick in the draft, but who is also the best player to hit the scene in nearly 20 years.
"He doesn’t really pay attention to any of the noise," Martin said. "The players that are on Victor’s level, they don’t really worry about all the noise. They let others speculate and talk and all they’re focused on is continuing to find ways to get better and that's what he does. With who he is, he could be the greatest of all time and that might sound crazy, but with Victor, no one is going to put more expectations on him and who he can be, than himself. He has a clear vision of what he wants to be and I know it’s bigger than basketball. He wants to be the best version of him."