During the closing minutes of Thursday night’s overtime win against the UCSB Gauchos, Phil Martin approached the free-throw line to help his team seal the victory. As he performed his routine free-throw ritual, the enthusiastic crowd at the Student Recreation Center began chanting, “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!”

To the casual fan, an MVP chant for the star player may not seem like a big deal, but all things considered, that chant was one of the most significant moments UCR has had all year. I’ve been covering the team for nearly three years now, and that emphatic MVP chant was one of the rarest and most pleasant moments I’ve ever witnessed in a UCR game.When Martin was asked to give his thoughts on the support the fans gave him, he simply smiled and replied, “It felt good. It was very big to get that support from the fans.”

It really was. It’s amazing seeing so much spirit coming from a fan base with a generally low attendance record. I give all that credit to Phil Martin. I think the fans are finally starting to see that there really is something worth watching in this team.

Martin is quickly becoming an attraction at UC Riverside. Scoring a total of 317 points this season, Martin is now among the top 40 scoring leaders in the nation. He’s been the most outstanding player in the Big West, and this is a conference that includes NBA-bound athletes like Casper Ware and Orlando Johnson. I think Phil can potentially steal the Big West Player of the Year award from Ware and Johnson.

Think about it. He has scored more points than both players, he has averaged a far better shooting percentage than both players in conference games and he has also led UCR to its best start in Big West history. The award is there for him to take.

I’m really looking forward to the remaining games of the year. With Martin leading the way, UCR has the opportunity to turn heads and even shock a few people. The conference-leading Long Beach 49ers will play against the Highlanders on Jan. 26. Look for Martin to dominate that game and show why he deserves to be recognized as the conference’s best player.