COLUMBIA — In the future, Frank Martin knows the wins will come. South Carolina basketball will turn the corner, start climbing to the top. The coach trusts this, because success is all he’s ever known.
It hasn’t happened for the Gamecocks through the first two games of SEC play. The cold, hard reality is a third straight 0-2 start in the conference. Yet, Martin is unwavering. His perspective provides a sense of context.
With losses to Florida and LSU last week, Martin believes his team began league play against two NCAA Tournament-caliber opponents. Certainly, the No. 10 Gators’ credentials are unquestioned, with a national ranking and veteran leadership. The Tigers, Martin said, should be considered a postseason team as well.
“They’re not just OK, they’re NCAA good,” Martin said of LSU. “If they’re not an NCAA team, then I should never coach another NCAA game in my life. That’s how certain I am they’re an NCAA team. We just, you know, we didn’t get it done. But we went nose-to-nose with them.”
It was a rough start to the conference season, and perhaps a predictable 0-2 record for a South Carolina program filled with underclassmen. The schedule gets no easier Wednesday when South Carolina travels to Texas A&M for an 8 p.m. tipoff.
The Aggies were picked to finish ninth in the SEC this season, but they’ve soared above expectations so far. With an upset win against Tennessee on Saturday, Texas A&M improved to 2-0 in the SEC.
“It’s an exciting week as we take on a Texas A&M team that’s playing with a ton of confidence right now and taken on the personality of their head coach,” Martin said, referring to Aggies coach Billy Kennedy. “It’s no fun when you’ve got to play against them, but BK is a friend. I know what he’s been battling here for two or three years with his health issues.”
Kennedy, 49, has continued coaching the Aggies after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in the fall of 2011. He guided the Aggies during their transition from the Big 12 to SEC.
“To see a team that’s finally playing the kind of basketball that he preaches, as his friend and a person in the business it’s fun to watch,” Martin said.
Martin will be focused on his group Wednesday.
The wins haven’t come yet for his program, at least not consistently in conference play. He’d like that to change this week.
“I’ll tell you what I’m not going to allow our guys to do is feel bad about what’s happened the first two games,” Martin said. “When I came in after the LSU game, I said I was disappointed and so forth. I wasn’t disappointed in our team. I was disappointed that we let an opportunity get away to improve our program, which is two completely different things. I’m always coaching my team, and I’m trying to build our program. It’s two different things.
“I have not been disappointed in my guys. My guys have been great. They’re fighting for us, they’re trying to do things a certain way, they’re learning while you’re asking them to do certain things. … We’ll get better.”
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