Frank Martin was done with basketball. Adrift. "A young derelict," as he described his 19 year-old self.
He had failed to make the basketball team at Miami-Dade Community College, cut during fall tryouts. He thought an opportunity re-appeared when eight players flunked out at the end of the semester. When he was playing in an open gym in January, preparing for a new wave of tryouts, he tried to block the shot of future N.C. State star Chris Corchiani. Martin tore his knee instead.
His body was broken - and so was his spirit for school.
"Ripping my knee up had put such a sour taste in my mouth with basketball that I kind of didn't want to be around school. I had no idea about the next chapter in my life," Martin said.
He dropped out of Miami-Dade, began studying for his real estate license, and took a job at Ocean Bank. It filled his days, but left him far from happy. It was a steep drop for the basketball-obsessed kid whose passion for the game defined him at Miami Senior High School.
Then in September, a lifeline came. Marcos "Shakey" Rodriguez, his old varsity coach at Miami Senior, gave him a call.
"Shakey called me and up and said, 'Why don't you go back to school?'" Martin remembers.
He was ambivalent. "So he said, 'Well, why don't you come by here and help us coach the kids? Sergio could use somebody,'" Martin recalls.
"I talked to Serge, and he said yeah, I'd love to have you."
"Serge" was Sergio Rouco, a 24 year-old, Cuban-born graduate of Miami Senior who was serving as the Stingarees' head JV coach. With a wide smile, deep-set eyes, and a swoop of slick black hair, Martin remembered Rouco (pronounced ROE-co) well. He first coached Martin when he was 12 years old, playing in the San Juan Bosco church league in his Little Havana neighborhood. He also coached him in a Kiwanis Club league that played its games at the Orange Bowl.
"If it wasn't for Shakey and Sergio calling me, I never would have come," Martin said.
Martin latched on as Rouco's volunteer assistant, working alongside him during the 1984-85 season. After he finished his shift at the bank, he'd make the 15-minute commute to Miami Senior to help the JV team's 7-9 p.m. practice.
"Serge was always very detailed. He had an ability to relate to players. That's what I remember - he'd make players understand what he wanted," Martin recalls.
It didn't take long before Rouco gave Martin his first head coaching shot. In February of that year, Rouco came to school with an announcement.
"Serge had a family situation and he couldn't make a game," Martin said. "I go up [to Rodriguez, the varsity head coach]. I'm 19 years old. I'm like, 'Yo, what do I do here?'
"He said, 'What do you mean, what do you do? Coach the game.'" Martin's team won.
A more permanent opportunity arrived in the summer. Rouco accepted a head coaching position at Miami Loyola High School, a move that initially caught Martin off-guard.
"Serge left, and I'm like, I don't know what I want to do. Coach [Rodriguez] came up to me and said, 'Hey I need you to drive a group of 15 year-olds to Orlando for a tournament.' I'm like, 'For what?' 'Well, if you're going to be my JV coach, this is a year-round job. This isn't a three-month thing.
"That's how the whole thing got started."
Martin accepted the assignment. Soon after, convinced of his former player's commitment, Rodriguez named him Rouco's successor as Miami Senior JV coach. The "young derelict," rudderless without basketball less than a year ago, was back in the game.
"Thirty years later, I'm still doing it," Martin added.
Rouco eventually moved to the college ranks, spending five years as the head coach at Florida International University. In 2011, another of Martin's friends, Ole Miss' Andy Kennedy, was searching for a pair of new assistant coaches.
Martin called him and recommended a guy.
Wednesday night at Colonial Life Arena, Frank Martin and Ole Miss assistant Sergio Rouco will meet again.
Our pre-game coverage of the Gamecocks and Rebels begins at 6:30 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network. For Part II of our pre-tip reads versus Ole Miss, CLICK HERE. -AD-