Dialing Long Distance

(Courtesy of Houston Conti.)

Sam Mowe

He was in the stands near the potential draftees at Madison Square Garden on draft night June 28, 2005. He hangs out with NBA players Jarrett Jack, Zach Randolph, and Brandon Roy. He attends practices of the Portland Trail Blazers. No, I am not talking about small forward Martell Webster who was selected with the sixth pick of the 2005 draft by the Blazers, though I very well could be. I’m talking about his brother Huston Conti (sophomore), an Oxy student and member of the Men’s Basketball Team, who was cheering Martell on while he watched him walk across that stage in the Big Apple to shake NBA commissioner David Stern’s hand. Let me explain.

Huston met Martell in the third grade at their elementary school in Capital Hill, right outside Seattle, during a basketball game at recess.

“I called him for a travel,” Huston said. “But he thought he didn’t, and we got in an argument about it. Eventually a teacher came over to see what was going on and he decided that I was right.”

Their friendship really got started that summer after fifth grade when Huston invited Martell to play on his Hoop It Up team. Their team didn’t win the championship but the two got progressively closer as the summer went on and it ended with the pair “practically joined at the hip,” Huston said.

The friendship developed into something more than most childhood friends experience when Martell moved in with Huston’s family during their middle school years and their first couple of years of high school due to some family issues that Martell was going through.

“People ask me ‘Is Martell your best friend?'” Huston said. “And I’m like ‘No,’ because it’s more than that.”

Growing up, Martell split time living with the Conti family and at his grandmother’s place. Throughout the conversation I had with Huston in the Tiger Cooler a couple of weeks ago (a meeting which he showed up to wearing the practice shorts that Martell was given for playing in the McDonalds All-American game in high school) he repeatedly stressed that the bond that they have is deeper than most friends could even imagine.

“Blood couldn’t even make us any closer,” Huston said. “I mean he’s just like family. He’s my brother.”

“Brother” is a word that was used again and again by Huston as well as by Martell, who took time out of his hectic schedule to rave about the Conti family. “Huston is my brother, that’s as simple as I can put it,” Martell said. “I see his parents, Leslie and Tony Conti, as my parents too. His little brother James is like my little brother. Huston and I both have each others’ backs through any and everything.”

Though they would remain close after they graduated from high school, their relationship had to change in other ways as Huston prepared for playing DIII basketball in college and Martell entered the NBA draft.

“We try to talk once a week now to make sure everything is good,” Martell said. “It is harder to get together especially when he is at college and I’m traveling so much for games.”However, they still live together in Seattle during the summer so that they can work on their games and hang out just like they did growing up.

“Our relationship really hasn’t changed much over the years,” Martell said. “Probably just what we talk about has changed now that we are 20, but we still act like we are 13 on a regular basis.”

Something that has definitely remained the same between the two is a mutual respect for the game of basketball. Huston was there for Martell when he was making the decision about whether to make the jump to the NBA from high school. Likewise, Martell was anxious to hear from Huston about how the Tigers were doing in this season’s playoff run. Of course, they also love critiquing each other’s games in person while they play against each other.

“If we played one on one a hundred times,” Huston said. “I would say I would beat him about 40.”

Standing at 6’7″ Martell doesn’t quite see eye to eye with his 6’1″ childhood friend on this one. “Huston and I always play one-on-one every time we workout and I don’t keep track of how many games each one of us wins, but I always win the majority of the games without a doubt,” Martell said. “Now that he’s throwing out numbers we might have to start counting these games.”

Either way, these one-on-one competitions do more than just build upon their individual basketball games. They also express the nature of their relationship. They are, quite literally, always guarding one another.

“He has helped my game as I have helped his,” Martell said. “Brothers are always there for each other. Enough said.”

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