March 8, 2017
By Brad Muller | More Features
South Carolina head coach Frank Martin has the Gamecocks poised to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004, and that’s not a surprise to the college basketball experts.
“It all starts with trying to change the culture,” said ESPN college basketball analyst Sean Farnham. “I think that you have seen that culture evolve, especially in the last two years into a change in the level of expectations that hasn’t been a part of South Carolina basketball for some time. Frank is such a great leader. I think he might be the most misunderstood coach in the country from the outsiders. Those of us who get to see Frank and the way he interacts with his kids, and the way they respond to him, is something. He builds relationships that last a lot longer than four years. He pushes the student-athletes to bring out their best. I think that’s why there is such a deep trust between his team and who he is as a coach.”
“Building a program when you’ve been down for a bit is more challenging than people realize,” said CBS college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg. “I think he has the program moving in a really good direction.
“You start with the foundation of establishing your identity and what your culture is going to be about. You get those pieces in place and you get people to epitomize and uphold that while you’re winning games. I think they’re moving in a really good direction under Frank.”
The expectation level for this program has changed. The culture has been established and changed from the inside. Now it needs to be changed from the outside.
Martin has steadily built the program in his five years in Columbia, which included matching a school record with 25 wins last season. A key component for that success is getting the best in-state talent to stay at home, including McDonalds High School All-American PJ Dozier, now a sophomore. That foundation was established a few years earlier when Lancaster native and current South Carolina senior Sindarius Thornwell chose the Gamecocks after starring at Oak Hill Academy, and was recently named the SEC Player of the Year.
“That goes back to changing the culture,” Farnham said. “Once the culture begins to change, you make headway in the recruiting wars. Frank’s team has found that talent and has found their stride in terms of getting the players that fit the identity of the program. If you’re going to play for Frank, you have to know how to defend. You have to know how to compete and rebound the basketball. Sindarius was the starting point in the change of that culture. The legacy that he leaves will be whether the players after him remember how hard he worked to become the player he was. That will be his true legacy at South Carolina.”
Martin has also immersed himself heavily into the local community, with the aim of impacting the lives of others outside of the program.
“I don’t think it’s any secret in this community as to what Frank Martin does for the State of South Carolina,” said SEC Associate Commissioner for men’s basketball Dan Leibovitz. “For those that don’t know him, they may only see this tough looking guy on the basketball floor. His student-athletes embody what he stands for, and that is somebody who is willing to reach out and affect change and affect other people’s lives in a positive way. If we had 350 NCAA coaches doing that, all of our lives would be better.”
Now that South Carolina has established itself on the national scene, there is little doubt that Martin will continue to raise the expectations for return trips to the postseason with a chance to compete for championships.
“He did it a Kansas State, so I don’t see any reason why he can’t at South Carolina,” Kellogg said. “The foundation that he likes to build around his team at the defensive end; that always gives you a chance to win and sustain winning. Clearly he’s a guy that can make that happen and raise the bar of expectations and be able to meet those expectations year-in and year-out.”
“I think he’s on his way to getting it there,” Farnham said. “They should have been in the tournament last year. I was very adamant last year that if you were going to take teams from the SEC, then there was no way South Carolina wasn’t going to go. The expectation level for this program has changed. The culture has been established and changed from the inside. Now it needs to be changed from the outside. That comes from the pundits and people in the business who can change the storyline of what is expected by South Carolina on a year-in and year-out basis. That’s where we are getting to right now.”
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