SIX WEEKS INTO his new job and Frank Martin already has spread the word about South Carolina basketball. He has appeared on numerous national TV and radio shows, making it known to all that he has shifted postal addresses and he is not in Kansas anymore.
That was part of the allure to USC athletics officials in hiring Martin. He brings name recognition to USC, much the same way Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier did in football. Most know of Martin’s coaching success at Kansas State, where he produced four NCAA tournament teams in five seasons.
The other part of the Martin legacy is that he can recruit, no matter where he is drawing his million-dollar paycheck. Heck, he wooed some of the nation’s top high school talent to the Manhattan not located in New York City.
It is far too early to pass judgment on Martin’s ability to recruit to USC. We will know for sure three or four years down the road whether those recruits will become bona fide SEC players or big-time busts. Such is the reality of college recruiting.
Still, most agree what Martin has done so far is impressive. He has commitments from two big men of Lithuanian descent and two guards from New York City.
“It was a really tough time. There weren’t a ton of options,” said Dave Telep, basketball recruiting analyst for ESPN. “The landscape has changed the past few years. Ten years ago, you may have gotten some momentum right off the bat, as soon as you were hired as a new coach. The way it works now, your momentum comes in your second year when you have that full recruiting cycle to work with.”
The recruiting start under Darrin Horn is more the norm. Martin’s predecessor at USC did not sign a player after being hired in April of 2008, concentrating his efforts instead on the junior class of high school recruits that came a year later.
Martin was not as willing to concede one recruiting class, even though six of ESPN’s top 100 high school prospects were not committed to a college program when he was named USC coach. Unlike Horn, who came to USC from Western Kentucky, Martin had established a recruiting base at a major-conference school and he could immediately tap into those contacts.
“From the day we hit the ground, we were running,” Martin said. “We had some vision for the guys we wanted to pursue, and lucky for us, it’s worked out.”
Laimonas Chatkevicius, a 6-foot-10 Lithuanian, had signed with Martin at Kansas State. He was granted his release by Kansas State and will follow Martin to USC. Mindaugas Kacinas, a 6-8 Lithuanian who Martin had helped place at a high school in Wichita, Kan., also decided to follow the coach to USC.
Tarik Phillip, a 6-3 guard, played in Brooklyn, N.Y., until his senior season in Charlotte. Thaddeus Hall is a 6-5 wing guard from New York who has academic issues to take care of before he can sign with USC.
Sheldon Jeter, a 6-7 forward from Beaver Falls, Pa., could have pushed this class to another level. A top 150 recruit who Martin pursued when he was at Kansas State, Jeter chose Vanderbilt last week over Penn State, Wisconsin and USC. That leaves USC with four commitments, none of whom is considered more than a three-star prospect.
Fans, naturally, get excited about the first recruiting class of a new coach. Optimism abounds for not only a new face on the sideline but for fresh faces on the court. But it probably is not fair to Martin, or the incoming players, to have unrealistic expectations.
“None of those guys is in our top 100,” Telep said. “You look at them, and somebody is going to emerge that is going to be more ready to play than the other guys. But that group was designed to give you some depth.”
Unfortunately for Martin, all four newcomers could be called on to contribute immediately. The defections of guard Bruce Ellington (to football), Anthony Gill (to Virginia) and Demontre Harris (presumably to transfer), leave USC’s returning roster short on numbers as well as talent.
That prospect has not dampened Martin’s enthusiasm.
“What we’ve got in place right now, we’re extremely excited about,” Martin said of the recruiting class. “Couple that with the guys who are returning, and it’s going to create a group of guys that are going to give us the personality and the foundation that we need as we move forward.”
The bottom line is this recruiting class represents the start, hardly the finish, for Martin as he spreads the word about USC basketball.
Watch commentaries by Morris Mondays at 6 and 11 p.m. on ABC Columbia News (WOLO-TV)