Early in Frank Martin’s coaching career, during a particularly rough patch, there came a point when all he heard from himself was screaming. That’s when a mentor stepped in with some sage advice.
“All I knew to do was scream, I didn’t know anything else. I wasn’t educated enough to try and educate,” Martin said. “This old guy who has been real influential in my life said, ‘Frank, the more frustrated you get, the more you’ve got to teach.’
“That will give you peace of mind,” Martin added. “And that’s how we do things as a staff.”
Indeed, if frustration means more teaching, the USC Gamecocks are in round-the-clock tutoring sessions with their first-year coach.
Most of the concern centers around an increasingly anemic and turnover-prone offense. The enigma wrapped inside that puzzle is the team’s odd penchant for not communicating on the court — be it among themselves or the coaching staff.
The issues have become such that Martin and his staff have simplified the offense to a level of blandness previously unheard of for one of his teams.
“This is the most vanilla we’ve been on offense in my six years as a head coach, probably even including my 16 as a high school coach,” Martin said.
Martin broke down the main problem by using a football analogy. When he calls for a play that has a running back hitting the hole between the right guard and right tackle, the offensive line blocks as if the back was supposed to go through the left side.
It’s an issue the players are aware of, said junior guard Brenton Williams
“Frank calls a play, we got half the players doing one thing and half the players doing another,” Williams said. “We’re shooting too fast, and that’s not something that he wants us to do.”
And that’s when the Gamecocks have been getting off shots. With a turnover average near 20 per game, a lot of those shots are going the other way and have been of the layup variety.
Williams has been a bright spot during the recent downturn. Before his neck injury in the St. John’s game Thursday, Williams had ignited a rally that was closing a large gap. In Sunday’s loss against Clemson, he shook off the lingering effects of that injury to lead the team with 16 points.
“Brenton’s come a long way,” Martin said. “He’s a long kid. He’s got quickness. He can really run and he’s strong. but offensively, he’s giving us a tremendous spark right now.”
Williams is averaging 13. 4 points per game, taking over the scoring lead from the slumping LaShay Page. He is shooting 53.1 percent from the field overall, which includes a 41.4 percent shooting from behind the 3-point line. He also is shooting 90 percent at the free throw line.
“I just try to take shots I think I can make,” Williams said.
All in all, Williams is just fine when he’s shooting the ball. The real issues arise when he’s dribbling it. Currently, he has an upside-down assist ratio, with 10 assists and 18 turnovers. Following the Clemson game, Williams asked Martin if he had any film of his Kansas State guards in action.
“To his credit, he cares, he wants to improve,” Martin said. “He asked ‘Can you show me tape of your point guards because I want to see how they play so I can play like that.’
“I thought that was a pretty powerful statement by that young man.”
Williams said Martin believes the Gamecocks to have similar offensive capabilities as his teams at Kansas State and that was why he wanted to see how those guards executed the game plan. But mostly, Williams believes USC’s offensive woes come from the game moving so fast that their lack of familiarity with the offense causes breakdowns when plays are being changed.
“I think because the style of play we have is kind of fast, some players are behind how fast the game is moving,” Williams said. “So trying to communicate and changing plays while the game is moving so fast, it’s hard and it’s something we’ve got to get the hang of.”
USC’s next chance to get the offense straightened out comes Friday against Jacksonville at Colonial Life Arena. No matter how that game goes, Martin said he’s taking the long view.
“You don’t practice to play eight games,” he said. “You practice to play in March.”