Frank Martin trying to instill in South Carolina the passion he saw years ago in Alabama coach Anthony Grant
COLUMBIA — Frank Martin started listing former players. He began with his Kansas State stars – Jacob Pullen, Rodney McGruder, Denis Clemente. He continued with well-known players he coached in high school in Miami — Udonis Haslem, Steve Blake. Then he wound down his list with lower-profile names from those high school days — Gimel Martinez, Allen Edwards. In all, Martin listed 12 guys. After his South Carolina basketball team lost 64-46 on Thursday night — perhaps its worst performance in another miserable season — someone asked Martin how the Gamecocks could regroup with such a short turnaround before today’s game at Alabama.
Charleston Southern at UNC AshevilleWHEN: 2 p.m. WHERE: Kimmel Arena, Asheville, N.C.TV: ESPN 3 RADIO: WJNI 106.3 FMRECORDS: Charleston Southern 13-9, 8-3 BSC; UNC Asheville 15-11, 9-3 BSC NOTES: CSU stumbled to its third loss in the last four games on Wednesday, losing at Winthrop, 70-65 ... Bucs rallied from 17 points down in the final 10 minutes of the game, cutting the lead to three in the final minute before falling ... CSU has struggled from the field in its last two road games, shooting a combined 9-for-59 from 3-point range…CSU continues to lead the Big South with 9.3 made three’s per game ... Asheville is first in the league in three-point shooting defense, allowing only 30 percent from beyond the arc in conference games ... Sophomore guard Saah Nimley is averaging 21 points per game over the last six games ... Nimley recorded his fifth double-double of the season in the loss at Winthrop on Wednesday ... CU can regain first-place with a win today and would hold the tie-breaker with Asheville after beating the Bulldogs earlier this season.South Carolina at Alabama WHEN: 4 p.m. WHERE: Coleman Coliseum, Tuscaloosa, Ala. TV: SEC Network RADIO: WTMA 125-AM LINE: Alabama by 12RECORDS: USC 12-12 (2-9 SEC); Alabama 16-8 (8-3) NOTES: USC has lost five straight games. Its longest losing streak in coach Darrin Horn’s four seasons was six, which happened twice, including the final six games of last season. Alabama has won four of its past five games, and two straight. Georgia Southern at College of CharlestonWHEN: 4 p.m. WHERE: TD ArenaRADIO: WTMZ 910-AM LINE: College of Charleston by 111/2RECORDS: College of Charleston 18-8, 10-4 SoCon; Ga. Southern 11-15, 5-8NOTES: The Cougars are coming off a 75-59 loss to Davidson on Thursday night. … Junior F Trent Wiedeman injured his ankle against the Wildcats, but is expected to play today against Georgia Southern ... The Eagles beat the Cougars, 51-47, on Jan. 17 in their first meeting of the season ... CofC holds a 27-19 mark in the all-time series with Georgia Southern. … The Eagles have won two of the last three meetings between the two schools, while six of the last seven contests have been decided by nine points or less. … the Eagles are coming off a 78-57 victory at The Citadel Thursday night.Davidson at The CitadelWHEN: 7:05 p.m. WHERE: McAlister Field HouseRADIO: WQNT 1450-AM LINE: Davidson by 18RECORDS: Davidson 18-7, 13-1; Citadel 6-18, 3-11NOTES: The Citadel has lost three straight, the latest a 78-57 loss to Georgia Southern on Thursday ... In their last three games, the Bulldogs have allowed foes to average 82 points, shoot 58 percent from the field and 47 percent from 3-point range ... P.J. Horgan scored 19 points with eight rebounds vs. GSU ,.. Davidson drilled the Bulldogs, 70-38, on Jan. 17 ... The Wildcats are coming off a 75-59 win at College of Charleston, their ninth straight win ... 6-10 senior Jake Cohen scored 32 points against the Cougars, hitting 13 of 24 shots ... The Citadel has only one more home game after this one, vs. Furman on Feb. 28.
“If I had any of them on my team,” he said after listing the players, “then I’d have a guy I could trust on my team. So we’d be all right (regrouping for Alabama).”
Yet not even Gimel Martinez — he played at Kentucky in the early 1990s, by the way — will be walking through the door of USC’s locker room today in Tuscaloosa.
Martin, in his first year at USC, knew his team was bereft of talent. The Gamecocks didn’t go 2-14 in the Southeastern Conference last season by accident. Nor was it a fluke that they were 5-11 and 6-10 in the previous two seasons.
Since winning their second straight National Invitation Tournament in 2006, they haven’t won more than six league games in a season, with the exception of coach Darrin Horn’s first year, 2008-09, when they went 10-6.
Now that they have lost five straight games, they are 2-9 in the SEC and 12-12 overall entering today’s game.
They are on track for their 17th losing SEC record in 22 seasons in the league.
Since going 11-5 in the SEC in 1997-98, USC has two non-losing conference records — 8-8 in 2003-04 and Horn’s first season.
Even the sunniest Pollyanna in USC’s fan base had to know the struggles would likely continue this season. Martin is also aware enough to realize that Year 1 wouldn’t be easy. But USC’s recent lack of zest eats at him more than anything. “I don’t like what’s happening right now,” Martin recalled assistant coach Matt Figger telling him before Thursday’s game.
“Why?” Martin asked.
“The locker room’s a morgue,” Figger said.
A lack of passion on his team is difficult for Martin to comprehend. He grew up in Miami, modeling himself after friends like Anthony Grant, who is now Alabama’s coach. They met in English class as high school sophomores. Grant was the basketball star, Martin not so much.
But they became close, and Martin so admired how passionately Grant worked that he wrote a paper about Grant during his first semester of college and later named Grant the godfather to his first-born son, Brandon.
“As a kid next to (Grant), it was impressive to see somebody that was that good just be so humble and so genuine as a human being,” Martin said. “Still, when I’ve got to make decisions, I don’t make them without having a conversation with him first. He’s got an unbelievable way of thinking things through.”
As Martin coaches across from his old friend for the third time in his career today, he will try to determine how to get his team to play with Grant’s passion.
The Gamecocks not showing it recently is such a concern for Martin that he didn’t brush aside a question Thursday about whether he had lost this team, except to say he hasn’t lost junior point guard Bruce Ellington or freshman wing player Michael Carrera.
“If I’ve lost (the other players), then they better disappear,” he said. “Because it’s going to be hard for them to be here next year if I’ve lost them 10 months into the job.”