July 22, 2014
By Brad Muller | More Features
"We respect everybody, but we fear nobody."
That's what South Carolina men's basketball coach Frank Martin told reporters on Tuesday following the release of the non-conference portion of his team's schedule, which will include three Big 12 teams that reached the NCAA Tournament last year with Oklahoma State, Baylor and Iowa State, along with other major conference opponents in Southern California, Penn State, Miami (Fla.), and Clemson.
Comparing it to the difficult slates he crafted while the head coach at Kansas State, the announcement comes in tandem with the launch of the 8K in 8 Days campaign in which the players and coaches will reach more than 8,000 members of the community through various service events while also setting a goal to sell 8,000 season tickets.
"We always ask our fans to come to us," Martin said. "We've got to find a way to go to our fans. I don't want our fans to show up just because our guys play basketball. I want our fans to show up because they respect what our players do around the clock. Yes, they play basketball, but they also care about things that take place in this community. I want them to embrace this as their home the way me and my family have."
Playing such quality opponents provides more potential for television coverage. The Iowa State game will be played in Brooklyn, NY, and presented an opportunity to get into an area where Martin likes to recruit. It also gives Gamecock junior guard Ty Johnson, a New Jersey native, a rare opportunity to play in front of friends and family.
"I like recruiting really good players, and really good players like to play on television," Martin said. "To play on television, you have to play quality basketball games. So we have to schedule that way."
The bottom line for Martin is that a tough non-conference schedule prepares his team for the rigors of playing in the Southeastern Conference, and playing a less challenging schedule won't help the team in the long run.
"It's a lot easier on coaches lives to schedule when you know you've got 10 or 11 wins going into January," Martin said. "You're not fooling anyone in this business. We're all going to get judged on how we succeed in our conference. We have to schedule a certain way to make sure our fans respect what we're trying to do."
With mid-major programs made up of upperclassmen finding a lot of success in the NCAA Tournament, Martin is wary of looking past any opponent, but he also understands the nature of young players getting more excited to play schools from the other major conferences.
"As a competitor you get out of bed and its human nature," Martin said. "You get more juiced up to go against a popular team than you do against a team that maybe no one knows as much about."
In addition to building his program and making his players better, Martin acknowledges that it is part of his duty to provide quality games for fans to watch and also strengthen the RPI for his team and the SEC.
"Season ticket sales went up last year," Martin said. "That says a lot about the excitement of our fans, the work of our players, and the work of our marketing department. That's what excites me about the place where I get to work every day."
While the student-athletes have plenty of time to get ready for the tough schedule ahead, Martin said he has no problems in getting them involved in community service.
"Our guys are great," Martin said. "They love it. When we recruited these players, the conversation about building a program has been part of it. Getting out in the community and getting involved, whether it's the Special Olympics, or going to local hospitals or local schools and reading to children; we ask our guys to do all kinds of stuff. They're on board."
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