The Gamecocks hired fiery Frank Martin from Kansas State to re-energize a program that had dropped to the bottom of the Southeastern Conference.
Martin spoke for nearly an hour in front of several hundred fans, media and South Carolina administrators. Afterwards, he was asked to demonstrate his harsh, laser-like stare, which was a featured attraction at Wildcat games the past five years.
“It’s something that happens when it’s time to compete,” Martin said, laughing.
Martin says the time for the Gamecocks to compete is now.
He told the players Tuesday morning they weren’t far off from SEC success, despite going 10-21 and 2-14 in the league this season.
“I’ve got to figure out a way, and that’s my job, to get them the confidence that they need to win that next game,” Martin said.
Not that it will be easy.
The Gamecocks lose their leading scorer in senior Malik Cooke. Their No. 2 scorer, point guard Bruce Ellington, is reconsidering his decision to give up football and continue to play both sports like he did this past year.
Martin will have two scholarships to use for next year’s team and possibly three if Ellington rejoins the football team. The new coach says he’s already begun tapping recruiting contacts.
“We’re on it already,” he said.
Martin doesn’t have to rush. He got a six-year deal worth $12.3 million. He’ll make $1.9 million this fall, a step up from his salary of about $1.4 million with the Wildcats.
South Carolina also agreed to pay Martin’s $1 million buyout at Kansas State.
South Carolina athletic director Eric Hyman spoke with former coaches, players, the NCAA and administrators in the search for a new coach to replace Darrin Horn.
“Quite frankly, we feel like we’ve got the right person,” he said.
Martin, 46, called it a whirlwind courtship with South Carolina that really took off this weekend while the coach was in New York helping CBS Sports with its coverage of the NCAA tournament. Martin joked that he had basketball studio analysts Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Greg Anthony urging him to take the job before he left.
“That’s how much respect people have for South Carolina basketball,” Martin said.
Martin was 117-54 in five years with the Wildcats. They reached the NCAA regional finals in 2010 and lost to Syracuse in the third round this season.
Martin thanked everyone at Kansas State and discounted any rift with Wildcat athletic director John Currie for the decision to leave. Martin was upset the school suspended forward Jamar Samuels for the Wildcats’ NCAA tournament loss to Syracuse.
However, “that administration has been phenomenal. I can’t be more thankful for how that administration treated us. They gave us what we needed,” Martin said.
Kansas coach Bill Self, Martin’s Big 12 conference rival, said the coach would be missed.
“Our league will miss him. I’m sure people in Manhattan (Kan.) will, too,” Self said. “He was nothing but good things for our basketball league.”
Now, the SEC has another outsized personality to match up with league heavyweights such as Kentucky’s John Calipari and Florida’s Billy Donovan. Martin said he got a text from his friend, Alabama coach Anthony Grant, that read, “Frank, our league just got better.”
Martin is the son of Cuban immigrants who coached high school basketball in Miami for 15 years and was an assistant at Northeastern for four seasons before Bob Huggins brought him on his staff at Cincinnati. Martin credits Huggins with jumpstarting his career, saying the West Virginia coach helped him get into college coaching.
Martin knew about South Carolina’s program from following former Gamecocks star Devan Downey, who spent his freshman year at Cincinnati when Martin was assistant to then Bearcats coach Huggins. Martin remembered watching highlights of Downey and his teammates celebrating their stunning 68-62 victory over then-No. 1 Kentucky in 2010.
Things slumped for South Carolina under Horn since that high point. The Gamecocks lost 24 of their last 27 SEC games. Horn finished his career at South Carolina 23-45 in league games and 60-63 overall with three consecutive losing seasons. Attendance fell drastically this season with opponents such as Ohio State and Kentucky outdrawing the Gamecocks in games played here this winter.
Martin praised Horn for running a clean program and improving the team’s once poor academic showing. Horn did a lot of good for this basketball team, except for winning.
“It’s my duty to try and complete that part,” he said.
Martin promised his team’s tough-nosed style and relentless work ethic would fill the arena.
“We will put 18,000 in this place every game,” he said.
Football coach Steve Spurrier won a record 11 games last fall, baseball coach Ray Tanner has won the past two College World Series and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley earned the team’s first trip to the NCAA tournament in nine years.
Spurrier said he met with Martin for a few moments before the press conference.
“I think we’ve hired a winner,” Spurrier said. “I think he’s got a pretty good track record.”
Martin said he’s worked on softening the hard-bitten image he’s been tagged with during his time at Kansas State. He said the only time you might hear him raise his voice is during games.
“What you see on six seconds on ESPN is nothing like I am,” Martin said.
Except for maybe that stare, which Martin admits he can’t help but break out during games.
“Probably after the first turnover,” he joked.
— Associated Press —