Gamecock Basketball head coaches Frank Martin and Dawn Staley took time out this morning to head to Birmingham, Alabama, for the annual SEC Media Day. The coaches rotate through a whirlwind of stations at the Wynfrey Hotel to meet with various print, internet, radio, and television media outlets before the start of the season.
One of Coach Staley's areas of emphasis was that last year's seniors who helped lead the squad to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament left a "legacy of leadership". She expects this year's team to hit the ground running with the leadership of seniors Ieasia Walker and Ashley Bruner, while hoping newcomers will get in the fold as well. Staley shared a lot of praise for freshman guard Tiffany Mitchell out of Charlotte especially and her play so far in preseason practice.
"Practice is going well considering we have just as many newcomers as we do returners. Our team is really working hard...we don't have to coach effort," Staley told the SEC Digital Network. "The players really understand how we want to play, the make-up of our team."
First-year coach Frank Martin fielded many questions about getting to know his new team, how Bruce Ellington will fit in after the football season, and his thoughts on the toughness of the SEC. Martin noted that returning junior guard Eric Smith and senior transfer LaShay Page have stood out so far in the pre-season and how much he has enjoyed getting to see the passion of the South Carolina fan base at other sports including baseball, football, and volleyball. Right now he is focused on building the foundation for this team to hope to compete for championships.
"The players have been great. I couldn't ask for them to be more excited, more enthusiastic, to compete as hard as they compete," Martin told the SEC Digital Network. "They've been phenomenal."
Martin reiterated to the media that Ellington will be welcomed to the team with open arms once the football season is over but that in the meantime the team will work and prepare without him. While he is still very much in contact with his basketball teammates and the new staff, dropping by the offices regularly, Ellington will not join the team until January (not in the December interim before any potential bowl game). Martin emphasized how difficult it is to play two sports on this level and how much respect he has for Ellington for being successful and really good at both sports.
The addition of Missouri and Texas A&M to the league was a hot topic today as media sought coaches' opinions on how tough the SEC would be this season. Martin noted that Missouri and Texas A&M have had consistently strong teams appearing regularly in the NCAA Tournament and that their addition makes an already competitive league including powers Kentucky and Florida even tougher.
"If this league doesn't get seven to eight teams in the NCAA Tournament this year I'll be extremely surprised," said Martin.
Check out behind-the-scenes photos of the two coaches' trip to SEC Media Day:
Video of Coach Martin's comments to the SEC Digital Network
Video of Coach Staley's comments to the SEC Digital Network
Check out @GamecockMBB, @GamecockWBB, and @SpursUpBlog on Twitter and the #SECMD12 hashtag for more tweets and photos from the action at SEC Media Day!
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