They both claim childhood innocence, and looking back, it was probably for the better. Cody and Caleb Martin didn’t know why things they way they were—heck, they didn’t even know that anything was out of place. They knew what they saw and thought it was a part of life. They knew their mom would say she “wasn’t hungry” instead of eating. They saw her work three jobs. They used the gas heater for heat and lived at grandma’s sometimes. They didn’t know how much their mother was sacrificing.
They know now. As junior forwards for Nevada, the Martin twins are using their mother’s love to propel themselves—and the Wolf Pack—to new heights. Nevada is 20-5, first in the Mountain West and 21st in the country, according to KenPom.
For much of the season, Caleb was the leading scorer (always has been), averaging 19.8 points and appearing on some Player of the Year lists. He’s louder, up-tempo. Cody is the more well-rounded player, the do-it-all forward that’s first on the team in blocks and steals, second in assists and rebounds, third in points. He’s quiet, reserved. And while, at 6’7” and 205 pounds each, they look identical (sometimes even their mom, Jenny Bennett, can’t tell them apart), their divergent personalities serve as perfect complements.
On the court, Caleb can give a nod to Cody and they’ll both be on the same page. They’ve been doing that their whole lives. As sophomores at Davie County High in Mocksville, N.C., they earned their first scholarship offer from nearby Wake Forest. As seniors, they transferred to Oak Hill Academy, leading the team to a 41-4 record. Cody was the team MVP; Caleb won the three-point shooting award. As freshmen at NC State, they played meaningful minutes for a team that went to the Sweet 16. As sophomores, they played starters minutes. But they wanted a place where they could have more freedom.
Enter Nevada. And no, there was no way they were going to transfer separate schools. “We wanted to keep playing our basketball careers together, and just stay together as long as possible, because after this, there’s no telling what’s going to happen,” says Cody.
After transferring from NC State, last season was an adjustment. They were farther from home than they’d ever been, and they missed certain things. “We don’t got Bojangles out here, that was tough for us,” Caleb says with a laugh. “The sweet tea ain’t the same.” (Caleb proudly reports, though, that he’s found “banging” lemonade and kool aid at M&M’s Southern Cafe in Sparks, four miles from campus.)
But their impact was felt immediately, even if they couldn’t play. “They had incredibly energy that they brought to our practice,” says coach Eric Musselman. “They wanted us to win.”
That’s translated to this year. Nevada started the season 8-0, which led to a No. 22 ranking in December. By mid-January, their 18-3 start was the second-best in school history. Caleb, in particular, has proven he’s an elite scorer—28 in a loss to Texas Tech, 28 in a win over Boise State, 26 in an early February win over Colorado State. Cody, for his part, had 27 and 11 against TCU, 22 and 12 against Wyoming. In the latest AP Top 25 rankings, Nevada sits at No. 23, holding a 20-5 record.
“I think we can beat anybody in the country,” Musselman says. “I just hope that our guys understand, we still have a long way to go.”
After a year away, their mom was able to come out to see two games in late December and early January. She saw two good ones. Against New Mexico, Caleb scored 24 points, including the go-ahead basket. Four days later against Wyoming, Cody had 22 and 12 and Caleb scored 15 points in the second half in a 92-83 win. It had been awhile since Bennett had seen a game.
“I heard her yelling,” he says. “I haven’t heard that in forever. She used to come to our games at NC State and in high school, and I would always hear her yelling. For us to hear that again, it was really nice. She lost her voice because she was yelling so much.”
Part of the key to success has been the twins’ ability to push the team. “They hate to lose,” Musselman says. “They push each other, hard. They push their teammates. They have a high will to win, they have a high degree of wanting to get better.”
Says Caleb: “It’s an expectation that we try to hold ourselves to make our teams the best we can, to do our job the best we can, holding ourselves to those high standards.”