The question was a valid one.
If you have been watching Frank Martin this season, so, too, was his answer.
Speaking before a gathering of former USC men’s basketball players at the “Legends Club” reception Friday evening at Colonial Life Arena, Martin threw open the floor to questions.
Quickly, one former player asked Martin to smile more when the television cameras panned to him during games.
Without missing a beat, Martin replied every time a camera was pointed at him, he was standing next to a referee.
The consensus Friday night was that Martin has won over the school’s alumni base — especially the more than 70 former players expected this weekend — just as much as he has captured the imagination of a suffering fan base.
“Each year, this team is going to get better,” said Nate Davis, who scored 1,345 points playing for Frank McGuire in the 1970s. “I think in the next two or three years, they’re going to win the Southeastern Conference.”
Gary Gregor played for McGuire’s first team at USC and went on to play in the NBA and ABA. Unlike others in the room Friday night, Gregor had a son who played for Bob Huggins at Cincinnati. He said from watching Keith Gregor play for Huggins, he had a good sense for what USC was getting in Martin.
“No player has ever come out against Bob Huggins or Frank Martin and ever said anything bad about them,” Gregor said. “They all love him because they know he cares and they’re willing to work hard for them.”
Henry Martin has seen Gamecocks basketball rise and fall and rise and fall again. He, along with Jim Slaughter, were the first two members of USC’s 1,000-point club, accomplishing the feat during the 1940s.
Henry Martin and a number of alumni who arrived early enough on Friday joined the current Gamecocks to watch film, then took in the team’s practice. After an officiating career that allowed him to stay involved with the sport and visit most of the gyms in South Carolina, Henry Martin was analytical in his assessment.
“I think he’s going to be a good coach for us,” he said. “He’s got a lot of young players, but we need a big man. They have improved as the season’s gone by. Of course, they have a long way to go … and they don’t have a big man.”
He did rave about point guard Ty Johnson, who transferred from Villanova and will be eligible for the second semester next season.
USC has tried for a while to make the Legends weekend a recurring event. Frank Martin said he was hopeful that would happen with the aid of athletics director Ray Tanner.
He also was mindful of the contributions made by the men in the room Friday.
“If it wasn’t for them there wouldn’t be me, there wouldn’t be our team, there wouldn’t be our locker room. We wouldn’t have this building,” he said. “The history and tradition of the former players … they were the ones that sweat and lay it on the line for the next group of people who come through. This is something we thought was well overdue and well deserved.”
Davis said he certainly expects to be back.
“Basketball is going to rise again,” Davis said. “I see it. I see it in Coach. Basketball is going to rise again.”