Feb. 18, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
While the American flag hangs proudly in the Colonial Life Arena, South Carolina students are enthusiastically waving the flags of the home countries for the Gamecock’s international student-athletes on head coach Frank Martin’s men’s basketball team. The gesture implemented by the South Carolina marketing department is creating a unique bond of appreciation between the students and the student-athletes.
“It’s awesome seeing that support from our fans and our students,” said Michael Carrera, a senior from Venezuela. “It’s amazing to see our flags and be proud of what we are representing. We’re proud of how our season is going because we’re doing it for them.”
“I’m a big Frank Martin fan to begin with, and I’m half Bolivian myself,” said Keith Macaulay, a junior student from Miami, Florida, who held the Venezuelan flag at a recent game. “It’s a very diverse team, and he (Martin) recruits the very best wherever they are from. Carrera has always been a spark plug, and he’s always hustling. I’ll hold it up whenever he makes a good play and during starting lineups.”
The idea originated from South Carolina men’s basketball director of operations Andy Assaley, and the marketing department brought the flags of Venezuela (Carrera), Gabon (Chris Silva), Lithuania (Laimonas Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas) and Canada (Duane Notice) to the Colonial Life Arena with an enthusiastic response from the students.
“I think it’s a great thing to do for our team,” said Cortland Finch, a junior student from Richmond, Virginia, who has hoisted the Gabon national flag on more than one occasion. “We’re just showing our support for the guys. I love trying to get it for each game. They notice it, and they’ve pointed it out in the game, so it’s great.”
“I was so happy to see the flag of my country in the stands, the moment was precious,” freshman Chris Silva posted on his Twitter account recently after seeing the flag of Gabon being held up by students.
Fans hold up the flag for the respective player when he enters the game or scores. It doesn’t matter where they are from, as the fans see them all as Gamecocks. The students have taken great care in being respectful with the flags. The intent is to honor those players and perhaps make them feel a little more at home as they give their all for the Gamecocks.
"It feels great to be able to see my country's flag all the way here in America," said senior Mindaugas Kacinas. "It kind of makes me feel like I'm back home."
“It’s good to see them (flags),” said senior Laimonas Chatkevicius. “The most important thing is that the fans and students keep coming to games. That’s why our home games are so much different from away games.”
In the language of basketball, there is no accent.
“It just brings things into perspective about how they bring a piece of home with me on the court,” added senior Duane Notice. “After making a big play or shot, I look over and see the flag being waved, and I feel honored and humbled. It's a reminder of who I play for, and why I play. It's amazing to see the student section recognize my pride for home.”
Team chemistry can be critical to the success of any program, and Coach Frank Martin’s men’s basketball team at South Carolina has developed into a terrific melting pot of talented student-athletes, from all over the United States and beyond.
“In the language of basketball, there is no accent,” Chatkevicius said.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise since Martin, the son of Cuban immigrants, doesn’t see race or nationality. He simply sees good young men who can play and are coachable.
“That’s the neat part about this team; that you have kids from Columbia (S.C.), you’ve got kids from Gabon, from Canada, from Lithuania, from Venezuela, from Washington, D.C., from East St. Louis, and from all over the place,” Martin said. “Watching those guys learn from one another and learn about one another is great.”
The desire to learn from each other transcends the game of basketball, and just as the fans are eager to embrace all of their Gamecocks, the student-athletes themselves are building a tight-knit unit, on and off the court.
“At our meal the night before the game at Tennessee, we had a Lithuanian dish prepared,” Martin said. “Watching the two Lithuanians just light up when they saw the dish, and all the other players dying to understand what that food preparation was, it’s pretty neat. It goes hand in hand with the fun part about coaching these guys, and that is that they genuinely care about one another.”
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