Nov. 3, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
Brian Steele has never been afraid to “go for it.” Three years ago, Steele took a chance and came to South Carolina to walk on to the Gamecock men’s basketball team during Frank Martin’s first year as the head coach. Fast forward to the beginning of this semester where recurring knee problems led to a discussion with Martin and the team doctor, and Steele traded in his high tops for a whistle as he will serve as a student assistant coach for the upcoming season.
“I really just rolled the dice because there was no guarantee that I would make the team when I first came here,” Steele said. “I’ve always wanted to coach. I’ve never thought about anything else except coaching basketball. Now that dream is becoming a reality. Frank went over options with me on how to keep me around. He knew I wanted to be a coach, so he started talking about having me stay on as a student assistant.”
As he begins the next phase of what he hopes will become his long-term profession, Steele admits it wasn’t an easy decision to stop playing.
“It was awful at first to be honest,” Steel said. “Basketball is all I have really known. There are pictures of me playing when I was in diapers, so to not be playing felt like a giant void in my life. Coaching and being able to help out is helping to fill that void, but I will still miss playing.”
Steele earned the respect of coaches and teammates after earning a spot as a walk-on three years ago by doing his job when his number was called, and was evidenced by the pair of big 3-point field goals he drained to help the Gamecocks maintain a lead in a win over Missouri last year.
“I think the one thing I’ve always been able to communicate with the guys is effort,” Steele said. “That’s what I want to do as a coach too. There was never a day where I didn’t want to play or compete. That wasn’t an option. I gave my best every day. So now, if a guy is not doing what he needs to do effort-wise, I’m always a voice that can tell him that I never took a day off, so you can’t do that either. I was very vocal when I was on the floor as a player. I never had a problem talking to the guys, so it’s not really that different. I’m still very talkative. I don’t have a problem trying to communicate with them.”
Coach Martin is confident that those attributes that made Steele successful as a student-athlete will help him as a coach.
“He has a desire in his heart for our basketball team that is phenomenal,” Martin said. “He’s got great spirit. Think about this – when we beat Kentucky two years ago, he was right in the middle of the whole thing. I’m not talking about the celebration. I’m talking about making the plays that helped us win the game. That’s the kind of spirit he has. He has believed in this from day one. He continues to do that.”
That win over Kentucky sticks out as one of Steele’s fondest memories.
“There are so many memories,” Steele said. “Obviously beating Kentucky (March 1, 2014) was an awesome experience. Beating Kentucky and having everyone run on the floor was awesome. I actually got hit in the face and split my lip open when they all rushed the floor. It was crazy.”
As he transitions into his new role, Steele is already getting an education and a new perspective.
“You see the floor differently,” Steele said. “Being removed from playing, you kind of see all five guys at once as opposed to just knowing your responsibilities. So it gives you the opportunity to help all five guys at the same time. There are little things that Frank used to get on us about, and I used to wonder why. Now, I see why he would get on us for certain things, and why they’re a big deal.”
“He’s in the transition phase now, mentally,” Martin said. “He’s a teammate and is in there with them every day. He’s in the locker room with them every day, but once practice starts, he has to start thinking like a coach. I spend a lot of time at practice in his ear about handling certain situations and some things I’ve never spoke to him about – ‘when this is going on, this is why I do this’ – just to give him perspective. I think he’s going to be a heck of a coach if that’s what he chooses to pursue.”
He has a desire in his heart for our basketball team that is phenomenal. He’s got great spirit.
Steele added that the coaching staff has been very supportive of his goals.
“The coaches have all been very helpful,” Steele said. “They’re in my court. They have always been there for me, and they want me to be as successful as I can be. Every day, Frank comes in and tells me something. He’ll say, ‘as a coach, you’re going to have to manage this’ and sometimes he uses it as a way to talk about somebody else in a positive way as he’s talking to me. He’ll say, ‘as a coach, you’re going to want to recruit a guy like Mike (Carrera) who wants to rebound, and who just loves competing.’ So he’ll use that as an opportunity to compliment someone.”
As Steele adjusts to not wearing the uniform on game day, he is thankful for the opportunities put before him in his time at South Carolina and hopes he can make an impact, even if he’s not the one taking the shot or making the pass.
“The reason I wanted to play for Frank and his staff is because I knew I was going to be the best player I could be when I left,” Steele said. “There’s no question about that. It was awesome to see how far I could go and reach my potential as a player. We have a lot of young guys, and they’re making a lot of the mistakes that I made when I was young. I know what it’s like to be there and be helpless or lost a little bit. I just want to help the team any way that I can so we can enjoy as much success as possible.”
As he struggles with what his game day attire will look like on the bench this year, Steele sees a bright side in a change to his game day routine.
“As a player, I always prepared myself like I was going to get in and play,” Steele said. “Now, I might just eat a little more during the pre-game meal.”
After getting a chance to prove his worth as a student-athlete, and doing the same as a coach, Steele is quick to point out how important Martin’s relationship is with his team.
“You can just joke around with him off the court,” Steele said. “Nothing is off limits. You can make fun of him if he gets a bad haircut or if he’s wearing bad clothes. You can say anything to him, and he’ll accept it and shoot it right back to you. It’s a lot of fun to poke the bear sometimes.”
At least now he doesn’t have to run wind sprints.
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