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Bismarck's Martinez leads Wyoming against Bison in CBI Tournament

AP Photo Wyoming junior guard Luke Martinez pulls down a rebound against Boise State on Jan. 28 in Boise, Idaho. Martinez, a Bismarck High School graduate, has helped lead the Cowboys into the CBI Tournament, where they will host North Dakota State on Wednesday night.

FARGO -- It was several years ago when Luke Martinez was a basketball player at Bismarck High School, helping coach youth camps. He took notice of one particular prospect.

Dexter Werner has since signed a letter of intent with North Dakota State and will enroll next fall.

"It's really good that Dexter is going to the next level, especially this high of a level," Martinez said. "I'm proud of what he's done at BHS. He's a tough kid. He's a blue-collar kid. He does all the little things right and has a great attitude and feel for the game."

Those are some of the same words Wyoming head coach Larry Shyatt says about Martinez, who will start for the Cowboys on Wednesday when they host the Bison. It's a first-round game in the 16-team College Basketball Invitational postseason tournament and the first time Martinez will play against a team from his home state.

"It's definitely something you think about for sure," he said. "But I'm going to treat it like any other game. I hold nothing against NDSU, I'm just going to go out and play."

Unlike Werner, Martinez was not highly recruited coming out of Bismarck High. His options consisted of Division II, NAIA or junior college schools. He went to Williston State College and that's where the 6-foot-4 guard blossomed.

He was recruited by the previous Wyoming staff. When Shyatt took over this season, he inherited Martinez, who was coming off an entire year of inaction because of a broken elbow the required two surgeries.

Martinez started 29 of 30 games this season, averaging 12.2 points -- tied for second on the team -- and 3.8 rebounds.

"I wouldn't trade him," Shyatt said. "He's a little bit fatigued right now. He hadn't played for a year and a half, but we hope he gets his legs back for this tournament."

Wyoming is 20-11 overall and finished sixth in the Mountain West Conference. The Cowboys have two common opponents in Wisconsin-Green Bay and South Dakota.

Both defeated USD, NDSU did it twice, while the Bison beat the Phoenix in Fargo and the Cowboys lost in Laramie. The last Wyoming-NDSU matchup was in 1965-66.

Both teams spent Sunday night into today trying to gather information on each other. Shyatt has seen NDSU play once in person when he was an assistant at Florida and the Gators hosted the Bison in Saul Phillips' first game as a head coach in 2007.

"Most tournaments are in this mold, you're playing people you're quite a bit less familiar with," Shyatt said. "That's the exciting part of tournament play as opposed to conference play, when there are very few secrets."

That almost describes Martinez's career. A few years ago, college teams were less familiar with him.

"I came on a visit here and liked it a lot," he said.

Kolpack is a sports reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.