If you have only seen Coach Frank Martin on game day, you might not recognize the smile on his face during preseason press conferences. But, if you look closely, there it is … and for good reason. Familiarity and experience are words he is emphasizing when speaking of his team going into this, his 3rd season as the Gamecocks Basketball head coach. For the first time since he arrived here, Coach Martin actually knows the players on his team from the start of the season. He knows what his players can and can’t do; he knows who needs what kind of coaching; and he knows where to best position his guys in a given situation. For their part, the players know where they need to be and what is expected of them.
In 2012-13, Martin’s first season, he was adjusting to a new team, a new home and a new job. At that point, he didn’t know what he was working with. He was well into a long tough season before he fully grasp the situation. He inherited a mess from the previous staff; a losing team, with the work habits and mentality that come along with losing. It was a struggle to watch that team play, and I can’t imagine what it was like to coach that team. They made tremendous effort toward becoming a competitive squad in a league like the SEC.
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Before the 2013-14 season, five players with eligibility remaining, and one senior moved on from the team; leading to another year of unknowns. A new team, consisting of seven freshmen and one transfer, along with five holdovers from the previous squad, awaited Coach Martin for his 2nd season in Columbia. Once again, the team seemed to be starting from scratch. Another tough season ensued, but it ended brightly. His young team won 4 of its last 6 games, including two wins in the SEC tourney for the first time in 8 years.
Now entering his third season as the Gamecocks head coach, Martin returns 70% of his team scoring from last year, and almost 90% of the rebounding, but what really has him smiling is the familiarity. He knows his team; his team knows each other, leading to better communication, more togetherness, better teamwork and, hopefully, more winning. There was a sense of this in the team’s exhibition game vs Benedict College on Sunday. In a 92-47 win, they looked like they knew what to do and where to be from the start. The players looked much more like a team on both offense and defense, and played with more aggressiveness and confidence from the outset.
We won’t know until the regular season begins if this will bring an NCAA tournament appearance, or even more wins than losses. However, knowing what he has to work with before the season starts has Frank Martin smiling. I think we could all get used to that.