It’s a fraternity, so it was no surprise to hear that Frank Martin considers Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski a friend.
The ties between South Carolina and the Golden Eagles run much, much deeper. The two are melded by the strong memories of their most legendary coaches.
The Gamecocks’ best run came under the fabled Frank McGuire, while Marquette is so devoted to the late Al McGuire that it still stencils “Al” on its jerseys. Frank won a national championship at North Carolina, then turned South Carolina into the king of the ACC; Al’s final game before an illustrious broadcasting career was 40 years ago, when the Eagles (then the Warriors) beat North Carolina for the 1977 national title.
The series spans 16 games, started because Frank wanted Al on the schedule. The two Irishmen, who are not related, went way back, when Frank arrived to coach St. John’s and a gangly Al was on the freshman squad. Al joined his older brother Dick on the varsity a year later and the then-Redmen went to three NITs and one NCAA tournament.
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A 1972 Sports Illustrated story by Curry Kirkpatrick detailed the love-hate relationship between the two, fueled by what became a contested rivalry. Nine times from 1966-77 the Gamecocks and Warriors met; Al had the upper hand on his mentor with a 7-2 record.
The most contentious meeting came Jan. 9, 1972, when the Warriors pulled out a one-point win in Columbia. Kirkpatrick wrote of All-American Kevin Joyce and “the worst 40 minutes of his life:” Joyce launched a 25-footer at the buzzer that was well off the mark to end a game where it would have been his only field goal.
But that wasn’t the story. Like a meeting between the two Irish brawlers had to, the game featured numerous fisticuffs. Marquette’s Bob Lackey and USC’s Tom Riker tied up a ball, Lackey shoved his elbow into Riker’s neck and Riker wound up with a left to Lackey’s temple.
Immediately there was another scuffle between Jim Chones and mammoth Gamecock center Danny Traylor. Frank, suitcoat and cufflinks impeccable as always, was in the middle of all of it trying to stop five fistfights while Al kept his seat.
Order was restored and Marquette won, the two gentlemen shaking hands and taking their respective teams home. Al went on to his greatest glory, while Frank, his days beginning to ebb, still produced solid teams but the school’s decision to move out of the ACC hurting his chances to keep USC elite.
The series continued, Frank keeping the Warriors on the schedule until he retired and successor Bill Foster doing the same for three of his first four years before the Gamecocks joined the Metro Conference and the rivalry ceased. The last time the two teams played was the championship game of the 2005 Great Alaska Shootout, won by Marquette in overtime.
Yet the ties were still woven into the series fabric. USC was seeking a replacement for Dave Odom, the coach of that 2005 team, and turned to Darrin Horn. Horn started his head coaching career at alma mater Western Kentucky after assisting Marquette to the 2003 Final Four, helped by a guard named Dwyane Wade he was credited for landing.
One of Horn’s star players with the Gamecocks was Devan Downey, who cut his teeth as a freshman at Cincinnati. An assistant coach that year was Frank Martin, who wanted Downey to visit Kansas State when he and Bob Huggins went there, but Downey pledged to USC before he could visit Manhattan.
A lot of history, much of it that Martin experienced first-hand when Cincinnati and Marquette were Big East brethren and when close friend Buzz Williams took over the Eagles’ program. After the Gamecocks’ matchup was announced in the Frank McGuire Room, Martin spoke about Al McGuire and what he has meant.
“He didn’t come out of the coaches’ mannequin booklet. There was no such thing as coach-speak when he spoke. He was his own man,” Martin said. “And he ran his program his way, he had his personality, he didn’t part his hair the way everyone else parted their hair, he didn’t wear the same suit everyone else wore. That’s what got me into coaching -- back in the 70s and 80s, everybody could be themselves.”
Much like two Franks at USC, 40 years apart.
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Who: No. 7 South Carolina (22-10) vs. No. 10 Marquette (19-12)
When: Approximately 9:50 p.m. Friday
Where: Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Greenville
Other Friday games in Greenville: Arkansas vs. Seton Hall, 1:30 p.m.; North Carolina vs. Texas Southern, 4 p.m.; Duke vs. Troy, 7:20 p.m.